Website design encourages “stealth applicants” toward enrolment – ICEF Monitor

One of the top resources for international students researching study abroad is still the institutional website, which of course means that website design should be a priority for schools, institutes, and universities. Good website design anticipates a wide range of students coming to the website for information and answers and reflects that diversity through intelligent structure and content.
International students will come to your site at various points in the enrolment funnel – and many of them will never make themselves known to admissions before they actually apply.
UniQuest research has found that the vast majority of international students never make contact with the university, college, or school they apply to and receive offers from, and half of these students use only the university website as an information source before applying.
These students are known as “stealth applicants.” Many stealth applicants are students whose interest in your institution isn’t so developed that they’ve followed a link to a landing page or sent in a query. Instead, they are students who might have:
In other words, these are students who might be considered early-stage leads who are near the top of the enrolment funnel – just after the “you have their attention” stage and right before the crucial “they’re checking you out” stage.
Often, the first image stealth applicants will have of your institution is the banner – aka “hero” – that greets them when they arrive on the homepage. This is why it’s so important to consider the composition of that hero.
Digital marketing firm Vital Design has some excellent recommendations for the homepage banner. The firm advises:
They point to the example of a banner (from Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design) that works well in terms of copy, if not imagery:
Vital Design notes:
“Rocky Mountain College of Art & Design stands out from the throng with an image of student work. The headline and supportive copy speaks directly to the aspiring student. And while the design of the CTAs is a little strange, the copy is strong: Our Programs; Student Work; and Virtual Tour. All allow prospective students pathways to explore the school further before committing.”
The firm also singles out an example of a poorly designed banner (from Pomona College):
Vital Design elaborates on the issues with the Pomona college banner:
“Southern California liberal arts college Pomona chose to go with a carousel hero that highlights five different news items — each one of interest to only a tiny percentage of prospective students. In our experience at Vital, carousel heroes decrease engagement because most users don’t have the patience to let all the images scroll.”
A banner Vital Design says is exemplary is Maryland-based Goucher College’s (below). The firm explains:
“The hero section of Goucher College’s homepage hits all the right notes with warm, relatable campus life videos. We’re especially impressed by their CTAs, which avoid the bottom-of-funnel traps like “Apply Now” in favor of appealing to students who are more concerned with finding the right degree programs, advancing their careers, and having a great college experience (which includes study abroad opportunities, highlighted here). Great job!”
Along with prospects who are just becoming aware of your institution, there are a multitude of student profiles who will come to the site with questions. This underlines the importance of creating a series of student personas to guide website design, communications, and marketing campaigns. The Interactive Design Foundation defines personas as “fictional characters, which you create based upon your research in order to represent the different user types that might use your service, product, site, or brand in a similar way.”
Each persona will reflect details such as:
Once you create a set of student personas, delineate logical “paths” you would like each persona to take through the website and reflect these paths in the navigational structure. You’ll want to have pages that are relevant to all international students, and also pages that appeal to niche segments (e.g., students from a particular country or region).
As the pages become more targeted, make sure you consider students’ top questions and provide straightforward answers to them. Include at least a couple of “contact” options (e.g., “speak with a student ambassador,” “speak with an admissions counsellor,” etc.) to ensure that if students don’t see the answers they are looking for, they can connect quickly with someone who does.
For additional background, please see: