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Recruit & Retain (University of Arkansas at Little Rock)

Designing Targeted Online Admissions

A new UALR admissions site creates a personalized student experience.

Architecting a new college admissions website is no easy feat. From academics to scholarships, there are a million and one pieces of information to share with prospective students. For the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR), organizing that data in a way that makes sense to those students is priority No. 1.

UALR recently rolled out a new Office of Admissions website that seeks to improve the application process, putting the prospective student front and center.

The site, which breaks down the application process into taskoriented areas, gives a prospective student the ability to explore UALR, schedule a tour, apply for a scholarship and even complete the application for admission, all from the same site.

Improving the Digital Experience

The site is one of the first major student-centered initiatives for the Department of Digital Strategy, which has a goal of restructuring several ualr.edu sites to bring the student experience to the forefront. That goal is part of the larger campus strategy to increase enrollment and retention numbers.

“We continue to formulate our digital assets around a student focus. We feel that our admissions site should center on engaging a student with the tasks that have to be completed to join us at the university,” Digital Strategy Director Dan Shisler says. “We wanted to provide several contact points, event information and ease of access to engage with our admissions team.”

With a renewed focus on recruitment, the digital team took its direction from Young as well as Dr. Dean Kahler, vice chancellor for enrollment management. Their vision for how prospective students engage with UALR through various touchpoints is based on an open-arms philosophy in which students are treated as important members of the university society, and communication is carried out efficiently on their terms.

“We wanted to iconify much of the navigation, and add the bright colors, which are complementary to our brand standard, to reflect the new spirit that is evolving on campus about how much we appreciate our student customers,” Shisler says. “We hope this is a good first step in a complete redesign of how a student engages with us on ualr.edu.”

From the admissions site at ualr.edu/admissions, users can selfselect whether they are interested in information about UALR’s undergraduate or graduate programs. Alternatively, users can choose a third path and still receive customized information that will help them through the application process.

The new site, while not all-encompassing of UALR’s Enrollment Management division, does provide an overview of the admissions process and the university’s pride points, from financial aid and scholarships, to academics, housing and campus life. The welcoming tone and engaging multimedia pieces invite users to experience UALR in a new, exciting way while still providing the information needed to complete an admissions application.

Students are able receive the exact information they need to apply. Currently, 13 student types are available, ranging from a first-time freshman to a visiting student. Additionally, prospective students can browse all of the academic scholarships that match their profile and apply for those on the spot.

New Navigation and Plans for the Future

The site took about a month to build and took the talents of a user experience/user interface designer and content manager, as well as several subject-matter experts. The redesign process began with a content audit of the existing site.

From there, new site navigation was created based on four distinct areas: determining financial aid, exploring UALR, choosing a student path and applying. The new navigation carves out several paths for a user to explore while always offering other routes. Naturally, though, all roads lead to applying.

As the site evolves, it will grow to include more social media through Instagram feeds and YouTube videos. There also are plans to incorporate more student-centered content in the form of blogs and first-year experience stories. Other sections are planned, including customized information for parents and high school counselors.

New enhancements will continue to make for a more personalized user experience. For instance, when a prospective student selects an area of academic interest, the site can then adjust to display information about that academic area, including a link to that program’s site.

Other redesigns are in the works as well — the offices of Financial Aid and Records and Registration will adopt the same user-centered approach on their new sites. Ultimately, a new global navigation will be added, offering one-click entry into the Admissions site from anywhere within ualr.edu.

This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

Jennifer Godwin is senior web content manager in the UALR Department of Digital Strategy (http://ualr.edu/digital).

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