The Hierarchy of Student Needs: 7 Questions Higher Education Websites Need to Answer

More than one in four (28%) students are enrolled in online courses at degree granting universities and colleges. Recruiting students for online programs is competitive and remains a key area of focus for both fully online universities and those offering online and campus based options. It’s no surprise to anyone that the key to enrolling online students lies in university websites.

Whether your website is evaluated within eight seconds or just one, most can agree that you have a very short time to capture or lose the attention of prospective students when they visit. Is your investment in web design and acquisition media spend returning quality students, or are you losing them upfront?

WEVO has tested hundreds of landing pages with thousands of prospective students, which informs our tried and true Hierarchy of Student Needs. By addressing the questions potential students need answered, you can ensure your website and landing pages experience higher engagement and conversion.

Sound nice? Then make sure your website answers the following.

1) Do you have what I’m looking for?

Programs and degrees offered should be front and center on your page. If there’s too much information, make sure to at least include an overview of this information. Online students are focused and directed: they need to know whether or not you offer the programs (and degrees) that they are interested in upfront, or they lose interest.

  • List top level programs and degree options on the homepage
  • Make it clear that there are more options available
  • Provide easy navigation to program specifics

2) Are you legit?

Several for-profit online institutions have behaved badly and given online education a bad rep. Online schools need to prove that they are different and that they offer a legitimate and respected education for their online students.  

  • List accreditations and certifications
  • Show collaborations and related programs with reputable institutions

3) Where’s the proof?

Online students are career focused. They are often adult learners getting their degrees to “make a better life for their families” and develop new careers. These students need to see success stories so they know their mid-life investment will be worthwhile. To communicate these proof points, you can:

  • Provide testimonials of current students and graduates
  • List reputable companies who have hired graduates
  • Show overall graduation statistics
  • Feature key faculty

4) Is it a fit?

Students, whether for online or campus based schools, need to feel that they are a fit. For online students, who are often adult learners working full time jobs and have families, imagery should reflect both their situation and their aspiration.  

  • Include imagery of adults studying in a nice home environment
  • Include imagery of adults in professional career environments for the desired position
  • Avoid focusing on imagery of younger (18-20 year-old) students

5) Does it work for me?

Online students are incredibly busy with the day-to-day of adult life. Unlike many campus-based students, whose life is often centered around school, these students are balancing busy jobs, families and other responsibilities. They need to believe that their online school is flexible and can provide options for their education that work for them.  

  • Highlight flexibility in course scheduling and timing
  • Include quotes or testimonials that demonstrate school-work-life balance

6) Can I afford it?

Online students are nearly always paying for their education themselves. They need to understand how much an education will cost and how long it will take to complete. While you may not want to show the actual cost per credit, you can still offer up ways that it can be affordable. Addressing this upfront can ease the concern that these students have, and allow them look further.

  • Highlights scholarships
  • Don’t bury financing options
  • Show transfer credit allowances that might reduce number of courses required

7) Will you help me succeed?

Prospective students need to feel that the school cares about their success. They want to know that even if they are attending online, that the school is not just out to get their money (an unfortunately common belief).

  • Tone and voice should be warm and engaging
  • Reflect who the students are and where they want to be
  • Show how your school gets them there


What are your strategies for increasing website conversion? What questions do you always make sure to answer for prospects?

Interested in learning more about WEVO? Grab 15 minutes on our calendar.