6 of the Best College Website Design Examples With Graded Reviews

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I often get asked by potential higher-ed clients, "what makes a good college website?" There are a few different criteria we used to judge the sites listed here, but in general, the most successful colleges are focused on building a great experience for their students online with rich, accessible program content and clear calls to action. I'll review these items below and give a pass/fail grade based on a set criteria as well as a cumulative grade for the website as a whole.

Bay State College = C

Bay State College - Top Higher Ed Web Design Example

CMS/Platform
Pass - Site built on PHP, a popular language
Hosting Provider
Pass - Hosted @ Rackspace, a well respected provider
Domain Authority
Fail - Ranked 47/100, needs improvement
Analytics Tools
Pass - Using Lotame, and Google Analytics
Rich Program Content
Pass - Good mix of resources
Schedule a Visit/Contact Form
Fail - Difficult captcha form won't submit
Clear Navigation
Pass - Well thoughtout structure
Publishing Fresh Content
Pass - Future events and recent news

Brooklyn College = C-

CMS/Platform
Pass - Using PHP, a popular language
Hosting Provider
Pass - Hosted @ Brooklyn College
Domain Authority
Pass - Ranked 85/100, strong 
Analytics Tools
Pass - Google Analytics
Rich Program Content
Fail - Only basic content
Schedule a Visit/Contact Form
Fail - Only "Apply Now" forms
Clear Navigation
Fail - Drop downs are too complex
Publishing Fresh Content
Pass - Recent events and news on homepage

Champlain College = A+

Champlain College - Top Higher Ed Web Design Example

CMS/Platform
Pass - Site built in PHP & ASP.Net, both popular languages
Hosting Provider
Pass - Hosted @ NTT America, no comment
Domain Authority
Pass - Ranked 66/100, good
Analytics Tools
Pass - Google Analytics, Mongoose Metrics, and comScore
Rich Program Content
Pass - Good student examples/case studies
Schedule a Visit/Contact Form
Pass - Long, but works with a confirmation
Clear Navigation
Pass - Clear nav with easy drop downs
Publishing Fresh Content
Pass - Fresh resources and posts on homepage

Delaware Valley College = A+

Delaware Valley College - Top Higher Ed Web Design Example

CMS/Platform
Pass - Using Expression Engine, a common CMS
Hosting Provider
Pass - Hosted @ Media Temple, a reputable provider
Domain Authority
Pass - Ranked 56/100, acceptable
Analytics Tools
Pass - Google Analytics, and Google Conversion Tracking
Rich Program Content
Pass - Basic program content with featured student profiles
Schedule a Visit
Pass - Very long, but works. *Links to schedule a visit are broken on program specific pages
Clear Navigation
Pass - Very well thought out and easy to use
Publishing Fresh Content
Pass - Recent events, news and spotlights

Davidson College = B+

Davidson College - Top Higher Ed Web Design Example

CMS/Platform
Pass - Built with ASP.net, a popular language
Hosting Provider
Pass - Hosted @ Davidson
Domain Authority
Pass - Ranked 75/100, very good 
Analytics Tools
Pass - Google Analytics
Rich Program Content
Pass - Very robust resources
Schedule a Visit
Fail - Could not complete
Clear Navigation
Pass - Clear navigation up until scheduling a visit
Publishing Fresh Content
Pass - Recent news and events on homepage

Stonehill College = C

Stonehill College - Top Higher Ed Web Design Example

CMS/Platform
Pass - Built using PHP & ASP.net, popular languages
Hosting Provider
Pass - Hosted @ Rackspace, a reputable provider
Domain Authority
Pass - Ranked 63/100, good
Analytics Tools
Pass - Datalogix, comScore, Acxiom, and Google Analytics
Rich Program Content
Pass - Info about courses, faculty and student profiles
Schedule a Visit
Fail - Many steps, requires account creation - unable to complete
Clear Navigation
Fail - Pretty navigation, but drops downs are too robust
Publishing Fresh Content
Pass - Recent news and highlights on homepage

Background & Method

Clients often ask us for examples of good web design in their field, but sharing links and screenshots of nice looking websites can often be misleading. I wanted to create a good reference that highlights some colleges who are really doing it well. I focused on higher-ed sites because this is a group we really enjoy working with and because they usually have a clear defined purpose for why their website exists i.e. Drive more applications/leads through the website and ultimately drive student enrollment offline. Then I took it upon my self to do some research and look at the following on what I deemed to be some of the nicest looking sites (at first blush) and give them some feedback since they are clearly interested in doing a good job - things like their:

CMS/Platform

This is the engine that is powers a website. It's smart to build your website in a language that is commonly used by developers in case you ever need to switch providers. All of these schools worked with a popular programming language or CMS. Only a site with a very unique language or proprietary CMS would have received a failing grade.

Hosting Provider

Hosting provider refers to the place where the schools files for their website are stored. It is also hard to gauge because it is totally subjective, but as long as their site was live they got a passing grade.

Domain Authority

Is a prediction from SEOMoz on how likely a site is to perform well in Search results. And it is a good indicator of how well a site is doing from a digital marketing perspective. A higher grade means that a site is more likely to rank well in search engine results. This is maily due to the fact that it means there are many other websites linking to their site. Links are like votes and the web search engines are popularity contests. Links = Popularity Votes.

Analytics Tools

The more tools a school is using the more serious they would appear to be when it comes to measure their website. However, in this post as long as they had one analytics tool recording data on their site they got a pass. Google Analytics can only give you so much information, it is often best to have a couple of other paid solutions to provide truly actionable intel for improving your website's experience.

Rich Program Content

As long as the university offered some supplemental content beyond a basic program description they got a passing grade – regardless of whether it was a student spotlight, curriculum sample, faculty spotlight...etc. as long as there was an effort to engage potential students with their content they got a pass.

Clear Navigation

This was a bit harder to tease out. Some schools use complex drop downs, some use very paired down drop downs, some use no drop downs at all. Whether they had drop downs or not I put myself in the place of a student and I began trying to find information on their undergrad business program. If I could not do this within the first page they got a fail. It'd be good to note - If a student really wants to go to a particular school rest assured they will probably stick around a bit longer, but being a firm believer in effective design, I would argue that if a school truly cares about making life easy for their incoming students the best way to start is with a well thought out website.  

Content Publishing Efforts

As long as the school had news, events or other articles published within the last month they received a passing grade.

Not all of this information was readily accessible. It required using great free tools. So I'd like to give a big "THANKS" to the following sites below that helped us do this research:

The CMS or Language they're using
Built With
Their hosting provider
WhoIsHostingThis?
*Their website's domain authority
Open Site Explorer
Analytics tools they use to measure their performance
Built With

* Domain Authority is a prediction, from SEOMoz, of how a site is likely to perform in search results (the higher the score the better the performance)

If you'd like to see more web design examples for Higher Education, you can check out Top University Web Design Examples (these are universities using a variety of platforms and languages to power their site) and Top University Websites Designed Using Drupal (these are universities that are using Drupal to power their website).

If you think we left off any well-designed college website examples, leave a comment below, and we'll be happy to review them.

About the Author

Marty Vernon

Marty is Co-founder/Strategic Director at EDUCO. Connect with Marty on , , or Google+