Web Reality vs. The Real Thing

I sat in yesterday on a brainstorming session with other college admission professionals to talk about what a college or university’s web site should be, what it should do, and how it should function for its users.  We all shared frustrations we’ve had with school web sites in the past (and present!) and took an opportunity to look at school web sites that we really like (as well as some we don’t like at all – not naming names).

Colleges still send brochures - like this stack, received by one of my students - but for the most part, they utilize their web sites to recruit prospective students.

It was a good meeting and I enjoyed getting the opportunity to network with others who work with students and families to make the college search as easy and painless as possible.  It also brought up part of the conversation we had at Monday night’s Twitter #horsechat, when a current college student pointed out that many college equestrian programs – and their facilities – don’t match up to what you see on their web sites as a prospective student when you see them live and in person.

She had a great point.  I remember back when I was in the midst of my own college search, the Internet was new enough that college web sites were very basic and I obtained most of my information through colorful brochures and viewbooks before I began visiting campuses.  In the photos and student profiles in each brochure, everyone was diverse and happy and each campus seemed to exist within a perpetually perfect autumn day.  They were very persuasive – who wouldn’t want to enroll in such institutions?

Then I visited – and realized that the reality wasn’t quite so perfectly coiffed.

Now the college web site has become the colorful brochure that introduces many students to a particular school.  (Sure they still send printed materials, but most of those are designed to drive you to the web for more interactive content.)  If you’re like me and visit enough of them, you’ll discover that – sure enough – just like those brochures I read all those years ago, the trees are that perfect shade of autumn red and gold that seems to only exist on college and university campuses.  What’s more, the equestrian centers are idyllic, with sweeping vistas and perfectly manicured paddocks on which horses of flawless conformation graze in contentment.

Is that necessarily an authentic representation?  You’ll have to visit the campus for yourself to decide – and that’s really the main point here:  You need to do your homework during the college search in order to know exactly what your chosen school has to offer you – and that means setting foot on campus as often as scheduling and finances will allow.

It’s also important to note that, in the case of college equestrian programs, the reverse can also be true of their web sites.  Because horse people are often busy in the barn and college admission personnel don’t always understand what constitutes a good horse picture, equestrian web sites have a tendency to be outdated or badly done, which can likewise turn off a potential student.  Also, many IHSA teams are entirely student run, which means that if they don’t have any web savvy members to stay on top of things, the most recent information you can get about their team will be three-year-old scores and rosters.

The bottom line?  Power down your Mac book, pick up the phone, and schedule a campus visit as soon as possible.  (And if you want help with picking the campuses you should see, let me know!)

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