Surprise! Teens Want Information From Higher Ed Websites


It’s my impression in other industries that web content isn’t always high on the priority list. However, in higher education, we’re on the opposite end of the spectrum. We’re constantly working with SMEs to refine and trim their content, most importantly to make it readable for the audience. When a page on tuition reimbursement policies reads at a 13th grade level, it’s no wonder why students prefer to call and ask questions than parse out that arble-garble, right?

And, while other industries might be working to pare down the interactive features on their websites so as not to pull focus away from words, we are again battling the opposite. I have an email in my inbox right now that I’m considering how to approach. The sender wants to *jazz up* the satisfactory academic progress page and the academic/financial aid suspension page. Pretty heavy stuff, right? But they want to add pictures, videos, links to random other websites, all sorts of things to, in a word, detract from the main reason the user is here: to figure out what they need to do to.

It feels fortuitous that I came across this article from mStoner’s Michael Stoner: “Surprises in the Data.” The article focuses on 3 surprises that came out of a study on how teens use university websites, with particular regard to how they consume information in their personal lives. Teens were asked what they like and don’t like about college websites (and similar questions asked of higher ed marketers/admissions/developers to get a sense of where the gaps occurred).

What Kinds of Information Prospective Students Want – And How They Want to Consume It

When asked the kinds of media they preferred, text and headlines took precedence over video (which came in 5th).  Not to say that teens won’t watch videos, “…but they don’t want those videos to get in the way when they’re browsing your site for the information they need in the moment.” I also love these other key takeaways (summarized):

  • Remember that teens don’t necessarily like stuff we think they should like nor do they do things that we think they should do, in life or on the web. So just because a blog post or a consultant assures you that you should adopt a new technology because “Teens!”, be skeptical.

At my institution, we’ve adopted more of a “wait and see” approach when it comes to new channels and technologies. Sometimes to our detriment, mostly to our advantage, though.  It’s always a bit of a struggle between marketing and other, student services-related departments, who are eager beavers when it comes to jumping onto the latest craze as soon as possible (i.e. Pokemon Go).

  • When teens are doing a college search and making choices, they want basic information. Make sure that they find it — especially in the places where it matters most, academics/majors, admissions, and financial aid. Impress them with clear, jargon-free text and easy-to-follow lists. And use clear, well-labeled photos. That will go a long way toward making them very happy with your website. Not to mention making applying easier.

Almost a little too on the nose, hmm?

  • Finally, while teens use websites consistently throughout their college research, choice, and application, they’re smart enough to know that even the best sites provide a limited view of what an institution is really like. So it’s important that other sources of information — social media, campus tours, etc. — be well-thought out and managed. And it’s also important to pay attention to intangibles, especially your reputation.

I love how this reinforces a more holistic view of the entering student pathway, and that it’s not about having the flashiest website, or the most information, etc. Employ consistency between outlets and ensure that answers and needs are met before investing time in things that detract from providing service.



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