The following recommendations were developed by the UA Graduate School and are published here with permission from Dr. Susan Carvalho, dean of the Graduate School. For most of these recommendations, eTech has added implementation tips based on our years of experience building department websites for the College of Arts and Sciences and our understanding of departments’ resources — time, money, personnel.
If you’d like to read the Graduate School’s recommendations in their original form, without eTech’s additions, download Maximizing Your Graduate Program Website for Recruitment (Microsoft Word document).
Target prospective grad students
Recommendation: “The primary purpose of the “Graduate” link on your department’s website is to recruit new students. Make sure a link to information targeting prospective grad students is easy to find. (The ‘About our program’ pages are often too broad – embed a link there that jumps specifically to a ‘Prospective Graduate Students’ page.)”
How to implement: If you don’t have a page for prospective graduate students, create one. Call it “Prospective Graduate Students” — simple, clear, recognizable.
Include a link to this page in sidebars on appropriate pages throughout the site.
Resist the temptation to put a link for prospective grad students in your main navigation bar; “Prospective Graduate Students” is a long, clunky phrase to put in your main menu, where it will wreak havoc with spacing and usability. Instead, put a link to the page called “Prospective Graduate Students” at the top of your “Graduate” dropdown menu.
Emphasize opportunities, not requirements
Recommendation: “Save the regulatory language for your handbook (‘students must,’ ‘all students will,’, ‘requirements include’) rather than for the pages prospective students will be reviewing. Prospective students should see opportunity and success, not dictates.”
How to implement: This is tricky; you want to avoid having one description of your academic program for prospectives and another for current students. You also want prospective students to know what they might be getting into (truth in advertising), and they want that too — by this point in their careers they expect there to be requirements that vary from school to school.
Get around this dilemma by using your pages for prospectives to focus on the grad student experience — what they will do, what they will learn, what it’s like to be here, how they’ll be challenged intellectually. Talk about academic programs in terms of opportunities, provide brief, overview-style information about program requirements, and link to the nitty-gritty information in the catalog.
Recommendation: “Showcase what graduate students have the opportunity to do — what some sample RA-ships involve, recent thesis/dissertation titles, alumni success stories.”
How to implement: Create a page that lists thesis/dissertation titles; link to abstracts if you have them. (But please don’t put full abstracts on the list page.) Collect information about alumni, and create an alumni updates page. Compile descriptions of RA-ships, perhaps written by the students who participated in them. Make sure someone’s taking photos of graduate students working on research with faculty and staff members.
Advertise funding opportunities
Recommendation: “Highlight funding options — both within the program and offered by the Graduate School (graduate.ua.edu/students/financial-support/). Point the applicants also to external funding sources where appropriate.”
How to implement: Focus on listing and describing funding sources within your department. Describe external sources briefly, then link out to them, instead of duplicating information.
If the percentage of your grad students who receive full funding and/or stipends is impressive, mention it.
Consider asking students and alumni who received scholarships, fellowships, or similarly sourced funds to write about what that funding meant for them; such testimonials could help with fundraising as well as recruitment.
Offer clear application instructions
Recommendation: “Make sure one page is titled “How to Apply” or something similarly clear. That page should include an invitation to visit, and instructions for setting that up in advance. It should also encourage early applications for full consideration, and should invite correspondence between the candidate and a designated faculty member.”
How to implement: We recommend that you include as much specific information as you can — deadlines, faculty members’ names — with the understanding that that page will require updating as personnel and deadlines change.
Recommendation: “Clearly state what kind of personal statement/statement of purpose you are looking for — not all students come from backgrounds that will train them in this ‘code.'”
How to implement: eTech has nothing to add here, except our usual advice for web copy: Break your text into bullet points or short paragraphs.
Highlight your uniqueness
Recommendation: “Highlight why someone should choose your program instead of your competitors’ programs. This might include touting the job placements and career successes of your alumni.”
How to implement: A&S departments have handled this lots of ways, in keeping with the requirements and customs of their disciplines as well as departmental culture. Think about what qualifies as “success” in your field, whether that’s job placements, publications, grants, or getting into PhD programs; collect the necessary information; and highlight those successes in news stories, lists, or tables.
Use faculty research profiles to greatest advantage
Recommendation: “Think about attracting applicants via the faculty research profiles. List recent article titles, grant titles, or areas of emphasis with an eye toward showcasing what kind of work students would engage in, if they join your program. Photos are also welcoming.”
How to implement: The department websites eTech builds already include this information (and usually more) in faculty members’ directory profiles. When we redesign your website, we’ll talk about what kinds of information should be included in the directory. You can help by urging faculty to keep their profiles updated and to include recent photos with their profiles. We know lots of people don’t like having their photos taken, but photos do matter. We’ll be happy to arrange a time to take them, or you can direct faculty to the Division of Strategic Communications. (See Emphasizing Graduate Recruitment for more info.)
Recommendation: “Explicit commitment to inclusivity is recommended — statement, photos, and connections to campus-wide resources for under-represented students. Also a welcoming nod to international students.”
How to implement: Recruit a diverse array of students and faculty to participate in lab and classroom photos. Ask a diverse group of your alumni to write short testimonials about their time in your program, and get them to send you photos of themselves.
Use lots of photos
Recommendation: “A picture is worth a thousand words — students doing things. Showcase facilities where appropriate. Give prospective students a feel for how it is to be here, live here, work here, as compared to our competitors.”
How to implement: If you’re up for a redesign soon, rest assured that we will talk about photos very early in the redesign planning process.
We will ask for your help setting up photos in your department’s labs and classrooms so that we can photograph people actually doing the work of your discipline. We’ll ask you to contact your faculty to find out what’s going on in their classes that might make for good photos. We might ask you to recruit “models” — faculty, staff, and students — for photos we’ll need to stage. We will also ask you to give us whatever photos you and your faculty already have, so put out a call to your colleagues for photos they’ve taken in the course of their work.
If you’re between redesigns, take photos at any and all special events: award ceremonies, guest speakers, presentations, outreach activities. Email your faculty, asking for any photos they’d be willing to hand over for the department website. And if you have anything special coming up — a field trip, an outreach project, a guest speaker or instructor, a particularly visual classroom activity — email Franklin Kennamer (firstname.lastname@example.org) to request an eTech photographer.
Help prospects connect with current grad students
Recommendation: “Connect prospective students to a current graduate student (ambassadors, dept. organization, etc.) if possible.”
How to implement: This is a great idea, but if you include names and email addresses of students, add this information to the list of items you’re going to need to update at least annually.
Another approach: If you don’t already have one, consider adding a list or directory of current grad students and their research interests. This would require regular updating, but it would help prospective students gauge how they’d fit in with their cohort.
Collect testimonials from current students
Recommendation: “Link to video testimonials from students.”
How to implement: This is a great idea, but most departments don’t have video testimonials lying around waiting to be linked to, and casting, recording, editing, and captioning videos takes time and energy. What to do in the meantime?
Request brief written testimonials from students and former students and assemble them on a page of your site. If you do eventually have video content, great! One or two short, well-produced videos alongside written testimonials makes for an appealing page that informs even users who don’t want to watch a video.
If you decide to create video testimonials, keep them short (well under 3 minutes). Short videos are much more likely to get played than long ones, and even users who click on a longer video tend to give up after about 2.5 minutes. If you want to feature more than one student, make a separate video for each student instead of making a longer video.
Any video you embed or link to on your website must be fully captioned. It’s the law.
You can record, edit, and caption the video yourself if you are so inclined (or if you have people in your department experienced in that sort of thing).
Use social media to support your recruitment efforts
Recommendation: “Consider using social media to drive prospective students to your website and vice versa.”
How to implement: Students tend to look at a program’s social media only after they’re interested in the program; they don’t use it to shop for programs to get interested in. This matters because holding the attention of prospects who are already thinking about your program is a different proposition from using social media to cast a wide net.
Think about what students who already know a little bit about you might need to know to nudge them in your direction. Use your social media to show users what’s going on in your department — guest speakers, novel activities within classes, participation in campus life, publications, conferences (at UA or elsewhere), social events.
Ask current students to like/follow the department on social media.
If your department’s student organizations have “official” social media channels, link to them.
Pro tip: Post at least a couple of times per week. Semi-abandoned social media is worse than none at all.
Even-more-pro tip: Tell prospective students how to find you on social media. (Facebook in particular does not search well, so consider providing a link.)
One last note: Students can be great at social media! But if you’re considering asking a trustworthy student to write your social media posts, proceed with caution. Review every post that student makes before it goes live, and retain ownership of the account so that when the student leaves, as they all eventually do, you won’t be stuck with an account you can’t access.