8 Website Tips For Engaging Non-Traditional Students

Online degree programs are more popular than ever, and there are more and more Universities entering the fray.  Once the domain of for-profit schools, online program and degree programs are now being offered by most public universities, including most of top schools.  Online degree programs are on track to deliver nearly a third of all degrees conferred. The needs of online degree candidates are also changing and reflect the changing picture of adult learners.  

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

 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 and will visit another school.

  • 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) Will a good company/institution hire me?

Online students are career focused and often as adult learners, balancing ful time work and/or family obligations while attending school.  Their goals are more about career advancement or change than “love of learning”. These students want to see success stories so they know their investment will be worthwhile. To communicate these proof points, you can:

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

3) Are you legitimate?

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.   

While public and not-for-profit schools certainly require less “proof” of legitimacy, WEVO has found that even these institutions need to provide some accreditation info and always provide the certifications for online programs that require them (e.g. nursing).

4) What degree do I get and what does it mean

Students want to know what the name on their diploma means.  If your school uses a different name for your brick and mortar versus online school (Penn State vs. Penn State World Campus, HBS vs. HBX etc.), prospective  students want to understand what their diploma will say and how it relates to your physical campus degrees.

5) 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.  

  • Imagery of adults studying in a nice home environment
  • Imagery that reflects the demographics of your target audience (e.g. ethnicity, gender, family (or not), career)
  • Include imagery of adults in professional career environments for the desired position
  • Avoid focusing on imagery of younger traditional students (18-20 year-old) students as it turns off the older target population.

6) 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 example of students who were able to balance it all and graduate
  • Include quotes or testimonials that demonstrate school-work-life balance

7) 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
  • If applicable show specific tuition offerings (e.g. military programs) which can mitigate the high tuition costs.

8) Will you help me succeed?

Prospective students need to feel that the school cares about their success. They know that their “hill” is likely higher and that they have to be more focused and driven than their physical campus counterparts (who generally have less outside obligations).  While they are driven to succeed, their hopes and concerns reflect a mix of aspiration, realism and fear. Website that address these, are more engaging and relatable to these prospective students.

  • Tone and voice should be warm and engaging
  • Message should speak to the aspirations of the students (better life, better career) and also to their concerns (flexible, 100% online, affordable)
  • Show how your school gets them there - via coaching and other support systems.

As online degree programs become even more popular, it is critical that schools recognize that their old ways (catalog, school visit, guidance counselor referrals) are not the norm for this new student. Schools need to speak to their unique position and needs in order to take advantage of this growing population. 

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.