Academic journal article College and University

Characteristics of Effective Graduate School Web Sites: Implications for the Recruitment of Graduate Students

Academic journal article College and University

Characteristics of Effective Graduate School Web Sites: Implications for the Recruitment of Graduate Students

Article excerpt

Abstract

This study further investigates the use of the Web in college admissions. Utilizing a series of focus groups, the authors address the recruitment of potential graduate students by focusing on characteristics of effective graduate school Web sites. This study concludes with recommendations and practical advice for graduate school administrators.

The growth of the World Wide Web (Web) is well documented, and in recent years its impact on higher education has received increased attention (Poock 2001; Stoner 1998). Many of the studies that have addressed this impact tended to focus on undergraduate admissions, specifically processing data, modes of communication, and characteristics of users (Cavanaugh, Martin, and Cover 1996; Hossler 1998; Perry, Perry, and Hosack-Curlin 1998). Clearly lacking, however, were studies that addressed the needs of users of the Web. In the Summer 2001 edition of College & University, the authors examined how college-bound high school students perceive college and university Web pages (Poock and Lefond 2001). In that study the elements of Web pages that engage and inhibit student browsing were examined, as well as the elements that increase the likelihood that the prospects will submit an application.

This present study is a follow up to this earlier research, as the authors examine how graduate students perceive graduate school Web sites at a variety of universities. Toward this end, four research questions (RQs) related to graduate school Web pages are addressed: What characteristics comprise an effective Web site? What information do prospective students seek on a graduate school Web site? What elements enhance and inhibit the appearance and navigability of the Web site? What is the impact of time to locate desired information?

Background

In 1997, Day noted that although the Web was exploding in size and scope, it received little empirical attention from academic researchers. Day was joined by others (e.g., Abels, White, and Hahn 1997; Head 1997) in noting that, specifically, little attention was given to the needs of the consumer when creating university Web pages. That is, while the Web was being used to recruit students, little attention was given to the perception of the Web by prospective students. In subsequent studies that did address recruiting students, this group was often defined (explicitly or implicitly) as undergraduate students (Abrahamson 2000; Middleton, McConnell, and Davidson 1999; Stoner 1998, 2001).

Recently, however, the focus on the Web in recruiting graduate students has received increased attention. For example, Hans (2001) studied the perception of family science department Web sites at four universities by 31 graduate students. When rating the appearance of Web pages, respondents rated the following items highest: user friendliness, content, graphics/images, and color scheme. When examining content specifically, items rated highest were description of program, list of courses offered, minimum requirements for acceptance, financial aid/scholarship information, and an online application.

Using a population of graduate students from across disciplines at a single university, Hoeflich (2002) measured the importance of a variety of sources of information in the program selection process. Using a Likert scale similar to this present study, Hoeflich found that 70 percent of the respondents rated the Web as important or very important in their selection process. This source of information was rated higher than all others, including contact with faculty members (57 percent), department literature (48 percent), and graduate school fairs (6 percent).

Given the importance of the Web in attracting graduate students, it is clear that effective and useful content and organization of the sites should be of great interest to universities. Universities have a variety of Web sites, including those maintained by academic departments and those maintained by central graduate schools. …

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