How The Student Choice Funnel Effects Website Development

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Marcia Nance
Vice President for Enrollment
Holy Names University

When potential new students and their families access a college/university website, they are searching for different kinds of information depending on the level of selectivity for an institution and where they are in the college choice process.

Stage One: Review Information

-Just beginning to look at colleges
-WEB is important resource
-Beginning to settle on college choice characteristics

Stage Two: Apply to a Few Colleges

-Becoming more insightful
-Asking better questions
-Seeking more detailed information

Goal: Cut college list down to manageable few and apply for admission

Stage Three: Select First Choice College

-Have applied and been accepted to a handful of colleges
Will make decision based on:
-Financial Aid
-The ?cool? quotient

Considering the student choice funnel and very basic website development strategies consisting of multiple layers of web pages, Stage One: Review Information has a dramatic impact on website design and functionality. This is the time when potential new students and their families are just beginning to look at colleges and universities. They are making emotional decisions. The internet is incredibly important and great photography is worth its weight in gold. The ultimate result of this stage is to begin to settle on college choice characteristics. Some potential new students and their families begin this process when the student is in middle school, most begin when the student is in high school and some begin during the summer before the student?s first semester of college.

What do they need to find immediately on your website? If they are part of the high selectivity group, they are going to want to find evidence of reputation and high outcomes. In addition to confirming the reputation of the institution and its graduates, they are interested in knowing what type of student chooses to attend. In other words, are they like those students? Can they picture those students as classmates and friends?

If they are interested in one of the niche majors, like Pre-Med or Pre-Law, they will then look into your academic section, with particular interest focused on faculty. They want to know that faculty members demonstrate expertise and have a certain level of prestige. Again, they want to get a sense of how they would personally interact with their professors. These potential new students want the opportunity to rub shoulders with highly respected faculty who would recognize and develop their talents.

If they are not looking at high selectivity, or are perhaps first generation college students, it may also be very important for them to find information that demonstrates how the institution might support their success. They are not only interested in programs that support their academic success, but also in a supportive admissions process and financial information. Again, at this stage, they want to get a sense of who attends the college or university and how they see themselves fitting in with that group.

If potential new students are searching for diversity, they are? not looking for students who look just like they do. They are looking for students who bring different backgrounds, ethnicity and cultures to the mix. Diversity is demonstrated by all kinds of students, not any one kind. In other words, if you are trying to increase your Hispanic student numbers you don?t just develop web pages featuring Hispanic students.? You make sure every web page demonstrates diversity, not sameness. Diversity is about people coming together, not standing out because of differences. At this stage in particular, potential new students are not compelled to continue looking through your website if they sense anyone must stand outside the group.

Since website functionality is dynamic, not linear, the user chooses what to research first. As a result, the prominent? feature is whatever the user chooses. Therefore, the key messages need to focus more on the big picture rather than on the details.

When all is said and done at this stage, no matter what level of selectivity or experience in the student choice process they have, potential new students are settling in on? what they will consider their college choice characteristics to be. In other words, if you have not? demonstrated why small classes are good, small class size may not be on their list of college choice characteristics and as a result you may not be in their college choice set.

What?s ahead at Stage Two: Apply To A Few Colleges? This is the stage in the student choice process when potential new students and their families are becoming much more insightful. They are asking more informational questions andseeking detailed information about benefits and outcomes. The goal of this stage is to cut the list of potential college choices down to a manageable number and begin the application process.

Potential new students are essentially looking for two things: (1) demonstrated benefits and outcomes, and(2) a clear admissions application process. This is the time when having graduates and alums who have achieved success highlighted on the website is an advantageous strategy. This is also the stage where theacademic information needs to become more than? lists of majors and faculty. Academic information now needs to be full of demonstration. Faculty who are experts in their fields need to be highlighted through their accomplishments and honors. Majors need to be explained, not only in terms of the courses one takes, but also in terms of the kinds of jobs one can attain with that major. This is the time when the website needs to allow potential new students the opportunity to drill deeply into each area. In addition to finding out about what majors are offered and about the prestigious faculty, they also need to be able to locate very specific information on academics, like the academic calendar and academic policies that might impact them. They? need to be able to easily view a tuition and fees chart. All detailed information needs to be readily accessible to them.

Within this stage, the admissions application process needs to be very straightforward and accessible at every juncture. In? other words, the link to Apply Now should be on every page, not just confined to admissions pages, i.e., when a potential new student drills down to the academic calendar, the sports? schedule or academic policies, there is a link to Apply Now on that page. That is why creating a framework page with that information is a good website technique.

Stage Three: Select First Choice College is the final stage of the student choice funnel. This is where potential new students have applied to and been accepted at their selection of colleges or universities. This is again an emotional decision time. They will make their decision based on what they perceive as ?fit?, the financial aid offer, their sense of the value and affordability quotient and the overall emotional connection they have with the college or university. They want to be able to say with pride to their friends and relatives, ?I am going to attend My Choice University!? or, ?I got a great scholarship at My Choice University!?

This is a time when connection souvenirs and other information should be available for downloading. Souvenirs could include a map of the campus, a calendar of athletic events, a blueprint of residence hall rooms, a copy of the student handbook, etc. Potential new students should be able to send a personalized My Choice University postcard to their friends. All these items should be in the college or university ?look?, in four-color graphics. This is also a time when they should have access to the college/university bookstore and have the ability to order T-shirts or sweatshirts and other logo gear online.

This is a time for the whole website to ooze with connection. Each student should have access to a personalized portal that is very current with their status and next directions to, and through, the next steps. Everything at this stage should guide them to enrollment as the natural next step.

No matter what stage potential new students are working through, to be effective a college/university website must be current, interactive and responsive to whatever they require whenever they require it.

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