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The Best Higher Education Websites We’ve Seen in 2019

This is part of a series highlighting our 2019 top website picks across mission-driven industries. Check out our favorite nonprofit websites, and stay tuned for more as we close out the year!

For the mission-driven industries we work with, effective websites can be game-changers. When it comes to universities, we know that a powerful website isn’t just a leg-up—it’s crucial. Effective higher education website design creates a strong online presence, which is exactly where the students are.

Universities also have some special challenges in this area. Generally, there are multiple programs and departments to be accounted for, all catering to different types of students. With that comes discrepancies in branding and messaging, which is the stuff of nightmares. Our nightmares, at least!

We’ve seen and built quite a few university websites at Mighty Citizen. We could probably write our own textbook about them! But for now, check out our top higher education websites for the year. Don’t worry, there’s no pop quiz.

The George Washington University

I can’t think of many things more helpful to a prospective (or new!) student than a virtual tour. The George Washington University’s website has a beautiful virtual tour that makes any incoming student feel plugged in and excited for their experience at GWU. You can navigate the whole campus from a bird’s-eye view. When your mouse lands over a building, it lights up with its name. You can click the building to bring up more information, including an overview, photos and videos, and a 360-degree view. There’s also a drop-down for relevant links, events, and social media posts tied to that particular building. Also included is a link to the building on Google Maps so you can easily find directions.

As if that weren’t impressive enough, it doesn’t stop there. The same feature is built out for Washington D.C., and their Mount Vernon and Virginia Science & Technology campuses. Those locations are home to university housing and other buildings that all have the same functionality within the virtual tour, in addition to local places of note like the Pentagon, National Mall, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and many more.

Screenshot of The George Washington University’s Foggy Bottom virtual tour.
Screenshot of The George Washington University’s Washington D.C. virtual tour.

Bucknell University

Our next stop on this college tour takes us to Lewisburg, Pennsylvania at Bucknell University. To start, this website just. looks. great. On the homepage, there’s a visually appealing video element right at the top that showcases the university and student life, with a call to action for prospective students to apply. The best thing about this website? It speaks directly to prospective students in clear, concise language. The academic program pages offer an easy flow for the user, with information about each major and minor broken up into digestible sections. It’s challenging for any university to display the sheer magnitude of program information in a user-friendly way, but Bucknell University’s program pages have spacious page layouts that are easy to scan. The website follows best practices for navigation and introduces a hybrid menu (traditional drop-down and collapsed) to prioritize different links, creating an intuitive flow for the user. There’s also a nice use of subtle animation that brings each page to life. Seriously, just scroll on any page and have a look for yourself!

Screenshot of Bucknell University’s homepage.
Screenshot of one of Bucknell University’s degree program pages.

Auburn University (Harbert College of Business)

Earlier this year, Mighty Citizen launched a fundraising website for Auburn’s Raymond J. Harbert College of Business. The website was built to promote Horton-Hardgrave Hall, a brand new world-class business complex on campus. This page has many of the same effective elements that we see from others on this list; high-quality imagery, good visual design, and even an interactive map à la The George Washington University that has more pictures and information about each type of room and accommodation on every floor of the facility.

The website is bold, yet understated. It passes the five-second test with flying colors. At first glance, you see the brand, the building, and a call to action to give. As you scroll, you get a feel for the purpose this new building serves. It tells the story of Harbert’s dedication to producing highly-desired graduates and its leadership in business practices. At the very bottom, there’s a form to request more information that allows the user to identify which audience they belong to. So whether they’re interested in visiting, giving to, attending or partnering with Harbert, they’ll get the information they need.

All of the elements of this website come together to paint a clear, strong picture of this new space to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Screenshot of Auburn University’s Harbert College of Business homepage highlighting their business complex.
Screenshot of design from the Harbert College of Business homepage.
Screenshot of the virtual map on the Harbert College of Business homepage.

The University of Texas (UT News)

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We’re big fans of all things burnt orange around here. Mighty Citizen shares our home city with this university, and full disclosure, we’ve worked with them on many projects over the years. With that said, we’d be remiss not to include their UT News website. This specific feature on the Apollo 11 moon landing is a great example of harmony between written content and imagery. They do a thorough job of incorporating a huge variety of content—video, images, quotes, and historical documents. Images throughout this piece populate onto the page differently through animated elements as you scroll. In general, the placement and sizing of the images aren’t formulaic. Long-form content often runs the risk of leaving the user unengaged, but when there are design elements like this, the experience is pleasurable. You might say that this page really knows how to “hook ‘em”!

Screenshot of the University of Texas’ UT News website.
Screenshot of imagery within the Apollo 11 piece from the UT News website.

Brown University

Punctuating our list of the best higher education websites we’ve seen this year, we have Brown University’s homepage. It has that same video element that we’ve seen from others on this list, but the storytelling doesn’t end there. In fact, it’s clear that this webpage leads with storytelling. The user quickly finds out what the university is about (innovation, impact, and collaboration) with each section branching off to pages containing more information about each of these pillars. If you scroll just a little more, there are three vertical videos of Brown students (Brunonians?!) giving advice to first-year students and Ph.D. students. We know that younger generations don’t want to be “sold to.” They want authenticity and these videos feel real, especially the previews for each video that automatically play when you scroll over them.

Screenshot of Brown University’s homepage.
Screenshot of multimedia feature on Brown University’s homepage.

Keep an eye on our Insights for more of our top picks from other mission-driven industries! You can help define the overall effectiveness of your current website with Mighty Citizen’s free Website Evaluation Kit.

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