In today’s digital age, it’s not enough for a university to have a great brochure, convincing mailers or top-notch recruiters. In fact, most of these marketing strategies have fallen by the wayside in recent years.
Today, the only true way to reach a student is through the web.

Why the Web Should Matter to Colleges
Teens spend most of their waking hours plugged in. They’re surfing the web and social media on their phones, they’re using it to send in homework and assignments, and they shop there, connect with friends there, and essentially live out their lives on the screen.
If a college wants to have any hope of reaching these plugged-in students, then a stunning, well-designed, and highly organized website is an absolute must.
Slowly but surely, universities are realizing the important role that the web plays in recruiting, and they’re transforming their sites from boring, template-style pages to fun, interactive online experiences. (Heck, we’ve even helped a few of them do it!)
In honor of this new trend in higher education marketing, I want to take a look at some of the best college websites out there – what they’re doing right, what’s unique about them, and why they’re a powerful and effective recruiting tool for the school.
Let’s take a look now.

The Best College Websites
Clemson University

First off, let’s talk about this awesome header. Tiger eyes? It doesn’t get much more visually striking than that! Right off the bat, this header helps draw your attention to the screen, and keep you interested.

Next, look at how cool their menu is. You hover over an item, and it takes over your screen in a light, transparent purple. This makes the site super easy to navigate and understand.

And most importantly, just look at the use of color and imagery. The pops of orange and purple really make the site stand out, and the images are crisp, professional and interesting.

Altogether, the Clemson site serves up plenty of visual appeal, along with an easy-to-understand layout and navigation. It’s perfect for recruiting students, and enticing them to apply.

The University of Arlington – Fort Worth

Since UTA-Fort Worth is housed in a historic train station, this design pulls from that. With the cool, brick wall header, the old Santa Fe railroad sign, and the Fort Worth skyline in the background.

The organization of this site is also spot-on, and that’s exactly why it’s one of the best college websites out there. On the top, you have a small user menu – for current students, faculty and more. In the middle, you have the more traditional items, like the about pages, the academic programs and the alumni section. Then you’ve got callout buttons below that for the high-visibility items, and on the footer, there’s the privacy policy and other web must-haves that barely get read. This type of hierarchal navigation makes it extremely easy to navigate and understand.

On the whole, the UTA-Fort Worth site delivers a comprehensive, eye-catching experience that is sure to stand out in the minds of prospective students.

Oberlin College

This site is one of the most stunning out there, with tons of imagery, lots of interactive elements and an almost blog-like feel. When you log on, your screen is overtaken by a large, professional, eye-catching image.

Then you scroll down, and instead of a boring, straight-line menu you get a beautiful, Tumblr-esque experience, filled with images, quotes and buttons.

Keep on scrolling, and there’s still more to be seen – just on this one page! Next, you’ll come across a virtual tour section, six highly specific, interactive virtual tours of the Oberlin campus. For students who are applying from far away, this can be a great recruiting tool.

Finally, the site is finished off with a beautiful, icon-driven section about the school itself. Almost like an on-page infographic, this gives prospective students the nitty gritty details about the university.

All in all, the Oberlin site delivers a fun, visually appealing site that is sure to draw students in. It also makes great use of space, with tons of interactive sections on just one single homepage.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame is one of the few schools that has gone with a single-page website – also called a parallax design. These are becoming more and more popular in web design, and not many schools have caught on yet.
On Notre Dame’s site, the user has the option either click the large arrow on the right side of the screen, or select a menu item at the top. Either way, they will be directed to another section further down on the page.

The main image can also be filtered, letting users take a peek at various places throughout the Notre Dame campus.

As you scroll down, you’re taken through all the sections of the Notre Dame website, essentially creating a guided, online tour of the school and all it has to offer. There are even on-page videos and image galleries you can interactive with.

By running with one of the web’s latest trends (single-page sites), Notre Dame has created a truly professional and impressive online experience. This should resonate with the young, plugged-in applicants of today.

TCU – Schieffer College of Communications

The Schieffer College of Communications has easily the best web presence on the TCU campus. With visually appealing imagery, great colors and a clean, easy-to-navigate design, it doesn’t get much better than this. One of the coolest parts of about it is this unique, icon-based menu. Just click one of these brightly colored icons, and learn more about the individual departments within the school.

This site’s other menus are great, too. At the top, a simple, clean and out-of-the-way bar helps prospective students navigate through the bulk of the site. Then on the right, you’ll see a “quick links” area, which gives users access to other points of interest at the College of Communication or TCU in general.

Overall, the College of Communications’ site makes the perfect marketing tool to reach prospective students; it’s easy to navigate and understand, it houses tons of information and data, and it’s visually appealing to boot.

Middlebury

Middlebury makes the list simply for the amazing menu system it has. Instead of a top or side menu bar, Middlebury’s site uses a unique colorful grid. Just hover over one of the colors, see the topic, and click it to navigate to the page.

Below the color grid, you’ll see the most important sections of the site, making them extremely easy to find and see. There are also links to the school’s different programs and departments.

Though simple, Middlebury’s site gets the job done, and it does so in a unique and interesting way. It definitely stands out from most bland college sites, which use traditional menu designs and boring layouts.

Well there you have it: some of the best college websites on the net. Do you work for a school that needs a better, more effect web presence? We specialize in college website design, and we can help revamp yours. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.

Author Info

Brad Parnell
Founder & CEO

Brad is the Founder & CEO of Steadfast Creative, leading the team in exploring new ways to solve creative problems and bringing direction and vision for the company. His passion is building relationships, providing solutions and empowering his team to send new ideas out into the world. With over 10 years of agency experience serving local and national brands, he is focused on results for his clients and team. Outside of  work, Brad serves on the board of directors at his local Chamber of Commerce and loves giving back to the community and spending time with his wife and kids.