Prospective students want real advice

Thursday’s exam results spell the beginning of the end of the application process for all those students who finished their A2′s this year. But for those in lower sixth form, the whole agonising process of thinking, preparing for and applying for university begins now. With AS results in the bag, and predicted grade tags flying about, the elimination process of working out which universities to consider applying for begins.

The first point of call in the process is no longer printed prospectuses and course lists, but sites like The Student Room and university websites. What with all the technology available out there, you’d think university websites would be snazzy and well laid out; and with the large number of applicants, you’d expect them to be easy to use and informative. But, as research carried out by Hannah Fearn for the Times Higher Education guide shows, some university websites just don’t cut the mustard.

A telling and damning verdict was given by one student who said that “most university websites don’t show you information you want to know, they just show you the information that they want you to know. That’s quite stupid really.”

It appears that today’s students aren’t happy to just be given outlines of the courses and an overview of the university. They want to hear from real students, to find out from those who studied the courses they’re interested in the good – and the bad – about the university.

But it seems, even with the gimmicky testimonial quotes that get thrown around university websites these days, it’s still not enough. Another student who took part in the research said “I struggled to find student comments, and if I did they were always good and never bad ones. There has to be one, at least one, student in the 20 universities I reviewed that would say ‘actually, it wasn’t for me’. I don’t know why they didn’t show that.”

One reason why they didn’t show it could be that, with competition so heavy for places, all universities want to portray themselves in as positive a light as possible – but in so doing they are shooting themselves in the foot, as prospective students turn to social media sites to search for the real experiences they want to read about – such as Facebook, Bebo and especially TSR. TSR is the perfect place for students to go for the subjective opinions they are looking for, either by actively getting involved in discussions about universities in our Universities forums, or by reading the views of current and past students on a wide range of topics related to a university in our university guides on the Wiki. And what’s more, our members are not afraid to be honest in telling prospective students about the aspects that aren’t quite as good as they should be.

The students from the three schools that took part in the research were asked to rate out of 5 – with 5 being excellent and 1 being poor – university websites on the following categories:

  1. Accessibility – how easy the site was to navigate and find the most important information quickly?
  2. Contact information – how easy was it to find the contact information, for the relevant departments?
  3. Peer review – how easy was it to find reviews of the institution and courses by current and past students, and did those reviews seem honest?
  4. Unique selling point – does the university plug its unique selling point effectively?
  5. Insight – how much of an insight into life at the university give you?

With the scores for each section tallied, the overall performance of the university websites were compared, with particular attention being paid to those universities scoring over 20 points, and those scoring below 10.

Coming in at the top of the charts were:

  • The University of Oxford, scoring a perfect 25
  • Edinburgh College of Art, Kings College London and Teeside University, scoring a massive 24 points
  • The University of Nottingham, scoring an impressive 23
  • University College Falmouth, the University of Greenwich, Harper Adams University and Southampton University, all scoring a very good 22 points

Carrying up the rear were:

  • Courtauld Institute of Art, which scored just 7 points
  • London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the University of Sheffield and the University of Worcester, scoring a less than impressive 9 points.
  • Edge Hill University, Glasgow School of Art, the University of Hull, Manchester Metropolitan University, the University of Wolverhampton and the University of York, all just scraping 10 points.

According to the article, the universities of York, Wolverhampton and Worcester all have plans to overhaul their current websites. To read more feedback about the research, and to see the tables of the best and worst performing universities, see the Times Higher Education article Deciphering the code.

For an insight into how people are talking about your university, why not check out our General University Discussion forum or see our Universities and Higher Education Colleges forums to see more specific discussion about your institution.