Web Design & Development

10 best college and university websites of 2021

When visiting the average higher education website, most people aren’t taken aback by the sheer quality of the presentation. Many have trouble viewing university sites across mobile devices in a satisfying way, and others still encounter designs that are struggling to attract applicants from the start. Colleges and Universities have the opportunity to describe their campuses, classes, and extracurricular activities like little cities, keeping prospective students and parents immersed in local culture and education prerogatives.

The voice of a school, and thus its character and the quality of its academic programs, all happen most strongly online, and a well-marketed website does almost all the work to keeping potential and current students up to date about what’s available and what’s on the horizon for their particular institution.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the best-designed website higher education has to offer and how they help define the school.

  1. Rhode Island School of Design

    Since RISD is an art-focused school specializing in design, their homepage smartly uses work from the student body to communicate how creative and engaged the school at large is. Their bold, high resolution images and simple, grid-style menus help keep a unique look without losing the fundamentals of easy navigation. Visitors know exactly where they are on RISD’s site at all times due to the clear titling of each section in bold white text, and every sub-page is presented in a blog-style scrolling format to make them look trending and topical, similar to an emerging news section.

  2. George Washington School of Design

    Ask any admissions office: being able to perceive a college campus the way day-to-day students can is fundamental to giving an accurate description of what life and activities are like for prospective students. GW’s site helps visitors immerse themselves in the campus experience with a fun, interactive map that regularly updates images and building locations and names for both of their campuses. Visitors have an easier time understanding what attending college within a city is like as opposed to in the suburbs or as part of a small town.

  3. Brown University

    One of the first things to notice about Brown’s site is how image and video-heavy it is, showing the New England school’s campus in multiple seasons, and with scenes from real classroom settings and extracurricular activities. The university uses a clever method to make their videos not so oppressive for viewers or hard to load for your computer: all background images are filtered white and video automation is turned off until you scroll to the relevant section. This organization of when things load and what all is shown at once is a wonderfully optimal way to make sure customers are seeing what you want them to see and that technical loads aren’t overwhelming mobile devices.

  4. Cornell University

    Cornell’s design takes a classically celebratory approach with a homepage slider offering views of their recent graduates and newest classroom technology (this time, a telescope for Astronomy majors). The school’s “Around the University” sub-page is a boon to prospective students, offering an extensive image gallery of life on campus, most interesting areas for students in the region, and different filters users can separate distinct aspects of the school around for easy comparisons. The “Cornell Chronicle” news tab helps keep visitors abreast of more traditional academic achievements within the student body without taking away from the look and feel of the more prominent images and taglines elsewhere on the homepage.

  5. Johns Hopkins University

    The website for Johns Hopkins mixes student achievements with grander, more declarative goals from the university as a whole. Their homepage’s full screen emphasis for each video loop and landing page image gives them an opportunity to offer visitors an immersive view of the school and its relationship to the City of Baltimore, while also offering recent news on musical performances and advancements in STEM innovation. The beautiful visuals owe some of their effectiveness to contrasting realistic video depictions with heavily stylized graphics of school spirit goals. Uniquely, the most graphically intensive part of the site, it’s header bar menu, is one of the most easy to navigate on the list.

  6. University of Pennsylvania

    The University of Pennsylvania ensures that student groups, including clubs and initiatives, are given a voice on the school’s homepage. They cleverly advertise different degree programs with realistic, unfiltered shots of happy outcomes related to careers, including a couple holding their newborn at home for the university’s nursing program. This emphasizes the heavily personalized experience that attending the school brings to student life: Cornell isn’t just a school, it’s a place where what you learn comes home to help make life that much better. The homepage image gallery shows success from all kinds of disciplines, including recent entrepreneurs and gallery shows for talented artists.

  7. Regent College

    The site for Regent College uses an excellent nav bar at the top of the page for easy viewing of what the school is all about. With a compact and vertically-slim structure, playing around on mobile or desktop devices is a breeze, and their black and white primary color palette lets the bright toolbar sections stand out and characterize the low-stakes, yet professional appearance of the college. The overall compact design Regent offers helps students quickly find the information they’re searching for, and while there are plenty of links to peruse, they never overburden visitors due to the strong spacing between distinct sections that look as wholistic as they are easy to tell apart.

  8. Goshen College

    Goshen College’s design offers educationally broad and religiously specific messaging for Christ-followers and people seeking higher learning opportunities across the country. Their site’s elegant purple and gold palette evoke a regal sensibility, and their homepage’s public health and education-major presentations help describe two of the school’s most popular programs. While the homepage’s initial structure is simple and effective, scrolling down brings visitors to the “What’s Distinctly Goshen?” section, which playfully describes the faith-based practices and focus on environmental sustainability that many students devote themselves to on campus.

  9. Ohio State University

    Ohio State University’s site makes a clever choice by using action-oriented photography of students at work and play under a call to action toward their facilities description page so visitors get a better handle on the overall campus layout. Their “Popular for Current Students” subsection gives visitors a ranking of the most recent search terms by logged-in students, including tuition payment information, career services, and the most popular degree programs. Their interactive map extends to all their campuses and comes with a state-wide graphic that stays clickable on any page.

  10. The University of Texas at Austin

    The University of Texas’s Austin location helps inspire visitors with their catchy. “Get Ready to Change the World,” slogan over looped classroom videos with actual professors. Just under the homepage slider, they advertise their placement in commercial college rankings to show their world-class education, and scrolling down takes you through a simple one-page-per-topic slideshow for what to explore, how to apply, and what financial aid options are offered. They consolidate some of the best hard-numbers stats for the school at the bottom, including student retention rates, their ranking among other public universities, and more.

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