Degrees (or majors) are the core products offered to students by colleges and universities. Before you repeat that statement to your admissions team or to research-producing faculty and get me in trouble, let me clarify the statement a bit. Yes, attending a college or university is about much more than a degree, but when it comes down to it, high-ability students are going to be looking at specific majors or graduate degrees. Potential students will likely be comparing individual academic offerings between different institutions as well.
In an ideal world, all academic offering pages would always be a blend of concise functional information, useful contextual information, and colorful details full of personality unique to each individual institution. Since we don’t live in an ideal world, I’ve included several simple things .edu web teams can do to improve major and degree pages.
Provide all the necessary functional information for each major or degree.
Functional information includes program (and course) requirements, types of degrees available (such as BA or BS), options (such as concentrations or foci), and program-specific opportunities that give the degree an edge over competitors (such as internships, co-ops, and research opportunities).
If you can, provide data to help make the case for the degree.
Two relevant pieces of data for degrees are employment rate within the first year of earning the degree and median starting income for the degree. If you don’t have access to this data, I’d suggest it is time to start collecting it. Employment and the ROI from a degree is part of your product.
Create content subcategories that matter to prospective students.
Given that prospective students will shop around for a major or degree, what does each specific college or university offer that a student can’t get down the street at Middling University? Prospective students want to know what careers options the degree will open up for them, and what other graduates have done with the degree. Who are the faculty members teaching the core requirement courses? What are the most popular or interesting courses available?
Include relevant visuals.
Academic offerings are the core products colleges and universities offer to the public, but many universities have major, degree, and program pages with no visuals for academic offering pages at all. The major or degree is what each individual student will be living and breathing during most days at a college or university. Degree pages are a perfect place for photography related to the subject-at-large (i.e. biology images), visuals specific to the college or university (new facilities or labs), or portrait shots to add humanity (faces of famous faculty).
Shorten the distance to a finished application by having next steps on major and degree pages.
Prospectives who investigate several different colleges and universities may not get to the end of a finished application if it takes too many steps to get from an major or degree page to an application. These pages should offer immediate next steps related to enrollment (request information, get tuition costs, apply) rather than asking visitors to re-navigate through the admissions section of the site.
Make sure each program page is buttoned-up for SEO.
Following basic practices for SEO will improve the chances of targeted leads coming to a major and degree pages through search engines. For starters, content on these pages should be regularly updated, page titles should be unique, and meta descriptions should be clear and concise.
Provide links to related majors / degrees.
A major or degree page shouldn’t be a dead end for a curious student or an undecided freshman. Visitors should be able to see links to other, similar offerings. Related academic offerings can be created based on the most popular majors, minors, and degrees within each school or college.
Perform usability tests specific to academic listing pages.
There’s no better way to improve a page or set of pages than watching users perform (or try to perform) critical assigned tasks. Doing short usability sessions (~20 minutes) to assess navigation to specific academic offerings from different parts of the site and to assess how users perform critical tasks on these pages can produce ideas for making these pages more frictionless.
If the above steps to improvement sound easy, consider that scale increases the difficulty level. Many of our clients offer between 40 and 100 undergraduate majors, so deploying and maintaining content for individual academic offerings becomes a challenge just by sheer volume. If you’re thinking about enhancing your academic offering pages but have limited resources, I’d recommend starting small: begin working on the five majors or degrees with the highest enrollment.
A sample content model
One tool for showing intent, declaring functional requirements for different page contents, and mapping the effort involved in creating new major or degree pages is a content model. I’ve included a sample content model for an undergraduate major as a public Google document.
Five good examples
Biola University: Biological Science Major
Northern Alberta Institute of Technology: Biological Sciences Technology – Laboratory and Research
North Park University: Biology Major
Wofford College: Biology Major*
University of Melbourne: Bachelor of Biomedicine
*Special thanks to Kylie Stanley Larson for providing this example.