How College-Bound Prospects Perceive University Web Sites: Findings, Implications, and Turning Browsers into Applicants

Article excerpt



Colleges and universities are increasingly using the World Wide Web as a vehicle for student recruitment and a method of application. However, little is known about prospective students' use of college and university Web sites, namely elements that users find engaging,

inhibit browsing, and increase the likelihood of submitting an application. To address these issues, this study examined how college-bound high school students perceive college and university Web pages. This study concludes with practical advice for admissions professionals and others who use the Web for recruitment and application procedures.

Few developments in recent history have experienced las rapid an evolution as the Internet. It has been suggested that the Internet will have a societal impact similar to that of electricity, but is developing far more rapidly (Brown 2000). Others have argued that the Internet is "the fastest growing communications medium in history" (Bell and Tang 1998, p. 1). To put the magnitude of the growth of the Internet into perspective, Bell and Tang (1998) cite a senior official of Internet giant Netscape, who noted that in the quest to reach So million users, it took radio 38 years, television 13 years, but just five years for the Internet. Yet, despite the rapid growth of this medium, surprisingly little is known about the perceptions and habits of Internet users (Maignan and Lukas 1997).

Research addressing use of the Internet, and particularly the most widely used application known as the World Wide Web (Sloane 1997), tends to revolve around business and commercial applications (eg., Lu and Yeung 1998; White and Manning 1998). Indeed, little is known about the use of the Web in higher education, particularly by college-bound high school students. This is a bit surprising given that high school students' use and access to the Internet is increasing (Gladieux and Swail 1999) and the vast majority use the Internet to some degree in their college search process (Abrahamson 2000; Strauss 1998).

Studies that have addressed the use of the Web in higher education tend to focus on admissions, specifically on increased efficiency in processing student data (Frazier 2000; Kvavik and Handberg 2000), providing students with a greater level of information and communication (Hartman 1997; Hossler 1998), and understanding the characteristics of Web users (Perry, Perry, and Hosack-Curlin 1998; Poock forthcoming). Clearly lacking are empirical data to assist college and university admissions staff in developing effective Web pages based on the wants and needs of prospective students.

The purpose of this study, therefore, is to examine how college-bound high school students perceive college and university Web pages. Specifically, this study addresses three research questions: What elements of a college/university Web page do prospective students find engaging? What elements of a college/university Web page inhibit browsing by prospective students? What elements of a college/university Web page increase the likelihood of prospects submitting applications?


Although the Web continues to evolve rapidly, it has received surprisingly little attention from academic researchers. In 1997, Day suggested that the scant amount of empirical research pertaining to the Internet is due to its newness. However, Day also suggested that another key reason for this scarcity is the nature of those who are involved in the development of this technology. That is, those who produce college Web sites tend to be on the cutting edge of the Web and seldom, if ever, take the time and effort to contemplate the implications of their work. Consequently, she argued that this leaves descriptions of the implications and effectiveness of the Internet to two schools of thought: the anecdotal (eg., "I use loads of graphics and it works well") or prescriptive (e.g., "don't use more than three icons per page"), both of which are "equally unhelpful" (1997, P. …


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