What Teens Look for on Academic Websites

Prospective students — both teens and older students — are repeat visitors to the “academic program” pages on higher ed websites. Make sure that they can find them -- and that content meets their needs.

August 30, 2016

Prospective students -- teens and older students alike -- are repeat visitors to the “academic program” pages on higher ed websites.

A lot of research supports how important these sites are throughout the college consideration and choice cycle. After reading Joshua Kim’s blog post, “5 (Arguable) Assertions About Academic Websites,” I was reminded that many developers and administrators of these sites don’t appreciate just how important they are for recruiting and converting students.

For example, Mythbusting Websites, research recently conducted by mStoner Inc. and Chegg, teens indicated just how important academic-related content is to them.* They said that finding information about majors/academic programs was the number one reason for them to visit a college website (93 percent). 

When we asked respondents to select from a list of common website navigation links that they might use at different stages of their college search and choice, Majors/Minors (92 percent) and Academics (90 percent) were the first two choices when they were researching colleges. These links continued to be important as students decide where to apply and which institution to attend among those that accepted them.

This is consistent with other research findings: for example, in the 2016 TeensTalk® Study conducted by Stamats and Chegg*, “Offers my (intended) Major” was the most important factor teens considered in adding a college to their list for consideration.

This research also confirms the wisdom of adopting commonly used terms as website labels, even when the terms an institution uses may differ. In short: you need to meet visitors to a website where they are, rather than force them to learn your terminology to interact with you.

Here’s a good example. Several years ago, I had a heated discussion with faculty at an elite institution about how to label majors and minors on the college’s website. They informed me that they didn’t have “majors” or “minors.” They had “programs of study.” We finally agreed that the term “Academic Programs” could serve as a label on the university’s website without misrepresenting the institution’s excellent academic options.

Turns out that was a wise choice. In the Mythbusting Websites research, 44 percent of teens said that when they were looking for majors or academic programs on a college website, the quickest way to find them was to look for a link marked “academics” or “majors.” And 22 percent look for a list of majors and programs.

The insight here: follow the convention and clearly label the area on your site where visitors can find out about your academic programs with either “Academics” or “Academic Programs,” if you can’t call them “Majors.”

And what do teens look for once they find your majors/academic program pages?

Courses and curriculum are important. So is information about faculty and their research.

But the Mythbusting Websites research shows that among the factors teens consider nearly as important as financial aid when selecting a college are professional preparation and graduates’ success. That means rankings information about the major is important. And so are stories and stats about what kinds of jobs graduates get. Yet, when asked “Which of the following sections of college websites are the most difficult to use?”, 46 percent of teens selected “what kind of jobs I can get as a graduate.”

If you’re developing new sites for majors or academic programs, or reassessing those already in existence, it’s essential to remember that the sites don’t just serve the needs of faculty and current students, but must also speak to prospects, sharing information that helps them make a decision about whether to attend your institution or seek learning elsewhere.

*Download 2016 TeensTalk® Study; sign up to receive Mythbusting Websites when the white paper is released later in the fall.


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