A well-crafted website doesn’t just draw in prospective students; it also creates a strong bond with the entire university community.

So, when promoting your university online, you’re not just advertising your programs but offering an entire academic journey.

It begins with your website design, which sets the tone for prospective students’ experience, lasting throughout their time at your university.

Therefore, this blog will explore the 10 best higher education website design tips with examples to help your university attract prospective students and engage existing stakeholders.

1. Tell a Story With Your Content

Even with relevant content and helpful information, reaching and engaging your audience takes time and effort.

If you really want to attract people, you need to tell a genuine story with a human connection to inspire them to take the next step with you.

Your story should have a point of view, a clear voice, and a good sense of how to say things effectively. Please provide them a clear path through the story so they know exactly how to get there.

For example, Imperial College London uses storytelling to publish immersive feature stories from across the university, and “We live inside a bubble blown by the Sun” is one of the latest narratives they have developed.

This narrative explores the development of instruments utilized by university researchers to utilize the Solar Orbiter satellite.

Rich in stunning photography and interactive graphics, this story motivates students interested in outer space research and encourages them to enroll in relevant programs.

The shorthand HTML embed tool integrates dynamic infographics and interactive charts that engage the reader as they scroll through the content.

Imperial College London mission to the sum story

Source: ICL

2. Break the Text With Engaging Images or Video

Identify key points or sections in the text that could be more clearly presented as a visual or video. The website incorporates interactive elements such as sliders, galleries, or embedded multimedia content to engage visitors further.

Place images or videos strategically throughout the text to break up long paragraphs or highlight important information in your college website design.

Opt for high-quality images and videos accessible to all users, including those with disabilities.

For example, the University of Houston integrates images of its world-class faculty on its website homepage.

It creates a more engaging and visually appealing browsing experience for visitors,  making it more relatable and credible to prospective students.

University of Houston WORLD-CLASS FACULTY

Source: University of Houston

Here’s another great example of the University of Bradford, which has effectively utilized video content on its website to enhance user engagement and break the text.

A video provides a dynamic and visually captivating overview of the university’s mission, achievements, and aspirations and allows visitors to gain insights into Bradford’s reputation, course offerings, and impactful research.

University of Bradford video content

Source: University of Bradford

3. Create a Better User Experience With Easy Site Navigation

The user experience is the way visitors interact with your higher education website. Exploring academic programs, subscribing to your newsletter, downloading program brochures, and exploring campus life all contribute to the user experience.

It includes designing intuitive interfaces, providing clear pathways to desired information or actions, and optimizing the journey from when a user lands on your site to completing their intended task or goal.

A student journey map outlines the experiences at each stage of the site’s navigation, from initial exploration to specific actions.

However, this approach requires thoughtful planning and iteration based on user patterns, interactions, and outcomes.

For example, the University of Arizona’s website has a dropdown menu where users can select who they are as a search option.

They’re directed to a page with information tailored to them based on their choice. This trend of personalized website experiences is growing as universities better understand their users.

University of Arizona's website has a dropdown menu

Source: The University of Arizona

Keep your website menu short and simple, with only a few items. It keeps navigation clean and user-friendly. Offer different options to guide users through your site’s content smoothly.

For example, the best education website design practices are followed by the University of Reading’s, which offers quick links for different visitors to help improve the user experience.

University of Reading's, website design

Source: University of Reading

4. Avoid Dark Patterns and Deceptive Design

Dark patterns and deceptive design refer to manipulative techniques used in user interface design to trick users into taking actions they may not intend to.

It includes misleading information or confusing layouts that steer users towards unintended outcomes, such as signing up for a paid webinar they didn’t mean to.

Provide clear and honest information about your university, programs, and services. Avoid hiding important details or using misleading language.

Use clear headings, intuitive menus, and descriptive labels. Users appreciate user experiences that don’t trick them into making decisions.

For example, Tiffin University has a clean design that features clear navigation, information, placement of CTAs, and sections for easy browsing.

Here are key higher education website best practices followed by the Tiffin University:

Content is written in small paragraphs for users to scroll through

Clean design with white spaces and layout lets users see the information quickly

The typography is easy to read and guides users to make informed decisions

Tiffin University has a clean design

Source: Tiffin University

5. Design With Visual Hierarchy in Mind

Visual hierarchy refers to arranging and presenting elements on a web page to guide visitors’ attention and convey information.

It includes structuring the layout to highlight essential information like program offerings, admissions criteria, and campus events prominently while de-emphasizing less critical details.

Headings, subheadings, and bullet points break up content and make it easier to scan, while images, icons, and infographics add visual interest and reinforce key messages.

Consistency in education website design elements such as fonts, colors, and spacing helps maintain coherence and clarity throughout the site.

Here’s an example of a UCLA website layout that mixes up the size of the images to avoid redundancy.

The boxed layout provides an easy flow for users through a webpage through continuity between elements and reads very well due to the lack of distractions.

UCLA website layout

Source: UCLA

Here are some techniques you must use to create visual hierarchies:

  • Keep the user goal in mind
  • Use of white space
  • Visual cues such as arrows, shapes, and icons
  • Organize related content

Hierarchy directs attention to enhance user engagement. It’s all about ranking your elements by order of importance.

6. Attention to Detail With Microinteractions

While they may seem insignificant, micro-interactions are essential to the user experience.

Microinteractions refer to the small, subtle animations or responses when users interact with the website interface. By providing visual cues, micro-interactions make interactions more intuitive, engaging, and enjoyable for users.

Micro-interactions work best when they’re designed with intention. Here’s an example of the Texas A&M University website, which has a well-organized page, clean design, and compelling micro-interactions.

The button enlarges and changes color when hovered over to increase user engagement.

Texas A&M University website

Source: TAMU

7. Design for Everyone: Accessibility & Mobile-Friendly

Designing a university website with accessibility and mobile-friendliness in mind ensures that all users, regardless of their abilities or devices, easily access and navigate the site.

Recent CDC data indicates that approximately 27% of adults in the United States have a disability.

Failing to accommodate such a significant portion of the population would contradict UNCG’s mission to be an inclusive, collaborative, and responsive institution that positively impacts students and communities.

Design for everyone involves implementing features such as alt text for images, keyboard navigation, and clear headings for screen readers to interpret content effectively.

Moreover, around 96.5% of global users accessed the internet via mobile phones.

Therefore, optimizing the website layout and content for various screen sizes and resolutions ensures a seamless browsing experience on mobile devices.

You don’t need to compromise aesthetics to achieve accessibility. Through planning and design, you can create a visually appealing and functional website for all users.

Here’s an example of UBC’s mobile experience with a simple design that effectively uses white space to keep the page uncluttered, a top-level menu that’s easy to read, and social media icons that let visitors instantly connect on different platforms.

UBC's mobile experience

Source: UBC

8. Personalize Your Website Based on User Behaviour

University website personalization involves understanding visitors’ emotions, motivations, and intent to create more humanized experiences.

For universities, activity-based personalization is particularly valuable in enhancing student recruitment, engagement, and retention.

Universities gain insights into individual interests and needs by tracking user activities such as course searches, event registrations, or resource downloads.

This data personalizes the website experience by recommending relevant courses, events, or resources, providing targeted support and information, and guiding users toward their goals.

Here’s an example of how the University of Texas has incorporated personalization into its hero section on its webpage, directly indicating that it all starts with ‘You’ and placing CTAs, taking them to make the desired action.

These elements in the university website design directly speak to the prospective students, and make them feel welcomed.

University of Texas CTa example

Source: UTexas

Indiana University Bloomington integrated Salesforce CRM and tracked approximately 430,000 undergraduate opportunity records used through the various recruitment funnel stages and 35,500 individual case entries of interactions—such as questions, feedback, or issues—with a student or agent.

The conversion ratio of admission applicants to enrollees at IUPUI went up 7%.

Source: Indiana University Bloomington

9. Include Calls to Action (CTA) for the Next Steps

Call-to-actions (CTAs) act as gateways through the user journey to keep users on track and moving in the right direction.

You might have mapped out the user journey, but if they don’t know how to move through it, they won’t experience it how you want them to.

CTAs can effectively engage users, drive conversions, and meet their objectives. Use action-oriented words that convey the desired action, such as ‘Apply Now,’ ‘Explore Programs,’ or ‘Schedule a Tour.

Position CTAs preferably above the fold or in a prominent location where they are easily visible to users without scrolling. Make CTAs stand out by using colors that contrast with the surrounding elements.

For example, the University of Windsor has a CTA button on their hero image section to ‘Take a Virtual Tour,’ given a color that makes it pop out of the background.

University of Windsor has a CTA button

Source: University of Windsor

10. Get Them to Follow, Like, and Share With Social Media Buttons

Adding social media links to your website can help you grow your followers and significantly enhance your online presence and engagement with your audience.

These buttons are convenient shortcuts for users to connect with your university’s social media profiles, stay updated on news and events, and share valuable content with their networks.

Additionally, embedding social media buttons promotes user-generated content, facilitates community building, and develops a sense of belonging and connection among your audience.

Use social sharing buttons selectively, focusing on the most relevant platforms for your audience. It will help visitors to follow, like, and share your content; you can expand your reach and attract more prospective students.

For example, Miami University has integrated social media icons on the website footer, which provides easy access and allows visitors to connect with you on various platforms with just one click.

Placing social media icons in the footer keeps them consistently visible across all pages, ensuring visitors can find them anywhere.

The footer is also a common location for such elements, helping to create a cohesive and professional appearance.

Miami University has integrated social media icons

Source: Miami University

Conclusion

A consistent brand throughout your university website shows users that you’re committed to providing them with the best experience possible.

Your university website must show prospective students where they are, where they have been, and where they can go. So, design it to make it enjoyable and easy for your audience to find the content necessary for them.

Incorporating the expertise of a digital marketing agency specializing in higher education can ensure that your website attracts and engages users effectively.

Designing a website for higher education requires careful consideration and attention to detail to effectively engage users.

Therefore, by incorporating some of the above tips, you’ll be well on your way to building a more comprehensive, engaging, and informative website.