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The reference sections of our public libraries are feeling a little lonely these days.  The ‘Guide to UK Universities’ is sitting patiently, collecting dust, waiting for the off chance that a hopeful sixth form student might want to thumb through its dated pages….  Okay, maybe we’re being a little dramatic but it’s certainly true that the way students are searching for a university is changing.  We’ve swapped books for blogs, fairs for Facebook and now we’re going mobile.

A recent survey carried out by Noel-Levitz looked at ‘The Mobile Browsing Behaviours and Expectations of College-Bound High School Students.’  They found that over half of US students applying for universities have looked at the campus website on a mobile device, in particular when using a smartphone.

When searching university sites, most of the students in the Noel-Levitz study were looking for something in particular.  The information that they said was most valuable when browsing on a mobile device was the academic program listing, cost/scholarship calculators and a calendar of important dates and deadlines.  It makes sense; they’re all facts and figures that you might like to find out whilst on the go.

The majority of students in the survey felt the mobile sites they used were sufficient and they were able to find all of the information they needed.  However approximately half were unsure if they would return to the mobile site and believed that it didn’t necessarily change their view about the university.  This is where universities can get ahead of the game.  Having a website that is mobile device-friendly is good but having one that offers unique mobile content and regularly updated content is great.

Ask any sixth form student what they regularly use their mobile device for and it’s likely that they’ll say social media.  The Noel-Levitz survey highlights that students are looking at prospective university Facebook pages, some even check them multiple times a day.  Although 50 percent of students would ‘like’ a university’s Facebook page to receive updates, as many feel that the content is only average.

We’ve seen that it’s important to keep mobile sites regularly updated and optimised and we know that students are keen to see useful and interesting social media profiles but how can universities ensure that they are reaching a mobile audience.

Keep it fresh

No, we don’t mean in the trendy Prince of Bel Air way.  In order for universities to keep their mobile sites useful, they need to ensure they are synced with their main webpages and are regularly updated with fresh content, paying attention to why students are searching through their site in the first place.

Think inside the box

Think about what looks best on a smaller screen (only 4% are looking on tablets at the moment).  Wherever possible use videos and images instead of long chunks of text.  Create useful tools such as calculators for costs/scholarships or for working out UCAS points.

Facebook is your friend
Students want to see their prospective universities on Facebook and they want to see them full of activity.  A successful social media page is packed with useful tabs leading them to key information quickly and lots of visual prompts.  Keeping up-to-date with UCAS deadlines and directing content to prospective students is a good way to hook them in and keep them coming back.  Social media profiles are an opportunity for universities to let their personality shine through and it could be the deciding factor for a student filling out their application forms.

 

Written by EC associate Rebecca Hunt.

image sources: http://techknowtools.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/sm-pics.jpg and  http://www.library.illinois.edu/cms/studentapps/images/hand_and_phone.jpeg

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