Come put out your eyes

2 07 2019

University websites are of the devil.

One of my on-again off-again jobs requires me to find information on college and university websites (those offering associates and up only), which means that over the years I’ve probably looked at every single one of those websites (3000+) at least once, and a fair number, two or three times.

It sucks dirt.

Community colleges tend to be less awful, i.e., more straightforward. Maybe they have less money to throw at “innovative” designs, or maybe the people in charge of the website have less patience for bullshit, or maybe the would-be students of those institutions have somehow convinced the site designers to just give out the information already.

Elite schools, arts schools, and small liberal-arts “name” schools are often the worst offenders. Oh, here’s a website that will open with a series of scrolling images and rah-rah pull-quotes and advertising copy. Maybe there will be links to Degrees and Admissions and whatnot in a taskbar, maybe those links pop out at the menu icon, but once you click on the desired link, you are welcomed to a whole new set of scrolling images and rah-rah pull-quotes and advertising copy.

Oh, and blog posts, because of course you, a prospective student, want to read what’s happenin’! at Admissions.

You think I’m exaggerating? I am not. Consider Johns Hopkins University. Go ahead, click on the link.

Now tell me, how long does it take you to find what are the requirements for admission as an undergrad?

You can find the link either at the icon or on the bottom, which then takes you to a page which requires you to click either undergrad (with a separate link to the Peabody Institute—good luck if you don’t already know that that’s the place for performing arts) or grad, then, when you click on undergrad, you get this:

You think, Huh, I might want to apply, so let’s hit “Application Process”, then scroll down a bit to find this:

Nifty, you think. Now, what are the GPA requirements? What scores do I need for the SAT and ACT? Oh, look there’s a link to “Deadlines and requirements”:

Huh. A list of deadlines. . . wait, here’s this illustration-quote-thing:

Excellent! Just what I want. . . oh, this is just an image, I can’t click on it for more information.

Well, there is at least a link to “Standardized Test Information”, which, hmm, tells me how to submit my scores, what JHU will do with them, how they’ll calculate repeat test submissions—which is useful, yeah, but since I don’t know what the cut-offs are, how do I know whether or not to retake?

Huh.

Okay, I see, there’s an FAQ link up near the top: that oughta tell me something, yes?

No.

All rightly, then, let’s just click on every damned link on the Admissions page. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope.

Ah, here’s something useful, via Discover JHU/Get the Facts: a snapshot of the Class of 2022, which includes “middle 50th percentile” SAT & ACT scores. Okay! If I’m above those numbers, I should be good, right? And maybe take again if I’m way under. . . ? What about slightly under?

I can at least find out how much everything (tuition, housing, etc) costs: just a hair under 75 grand for on-campus students, about 70Gs for off-campus.

Well, then.

I pick on Johns Hopkins because a) I had to try to find information on their website today and am thus still irritated, many hours later; and b) for a non-artsy school, it’s one of the worst.

I have nothing against Johns Hopkins as a university—it’s a very good school—but if I were some first-generation-college kid from podunk Wisconsin trying to figure out whether I should take a shot at applying to it? Fuh-getit.

That might be the point—they only want students who don’t actually need to use the website for information—but I doubt it. I think the site was designed by people who think, Ooh, this’ll look good on a phone or tablet or whatever, who like how clever/inspirational/creative it all is, but who haven’t a clue how people who haven’t a clue how universities work might actually want to use their site.

Now, it’s possible that this does work for some subset of students, and that admissions counselors are available to fill in all of the blanks, but, man, it is also possible that this joint would intimidate someone into not even bothering to contact that counselor.

(I know, in fairness I should do my alma mater. I have no faith that it will actually be good, but, sheesh, it can’t be worse than JHU.)

Having done this job, I know too much how colleges and universities are organized to have a good sense of how an undergraduate might navigate the site for information—do they know that the bulk of undergrad programs would be in a college of arts & sciences or liberal arts? do they understand general education or core requirements?—but I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re almost as useless for current as for prospective students.

And faculty? Staff? Ha, right.

So, I gotta ask: if these sites are garbage for prospective and current students, for faculty and staff, then just who in the hell are they for?

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Pretty on the inside

28 10 2013

Time: just in the nick of!

For my bank account, anyway. I’m back working for the same organization for which I’ve worked on and off for years. I’ve moved around different departments, filling in as needed, and trying not to fuck up.

I like these people, and I like that they hire me to fill in.

Anyway, my current project is to find contact information for a group of people. I don’t want to be any more specific than that, but I will note that this project, like a previous one, requires a fair amount of time spent on college & university websites.

Which brings me to the real topic (rant) of the day: Jesus Christ on a cracker can no one design a decent university website?

Let’s start with all of the crap on the front page: flickering images and/or too much text, cutesy or self-serious self-promo shit, tiny print, ugly fonts, and links which only lead to more links and more links and more links before you can find what you’re looking for.

Some have site maps, some of which are useful, but others which are either so general or so specific as to be useless. Some have directories, some of which are useful, . . .

The worst, however, are those landing pages which are geared toward sucking in potential students. In fact, the worse the school, the more real estate is given over to the sales staff. And even then, it’s not as if the links take you directly to the pages you need, oh no: first you have to wade through a thicket of pitch-links.

I’m mostly looking for faculty and departmental information, so I can bypass most of the crap, but honest-to-pete, there are some institutions which do not include a front-page link to “Academics”.  Campus activities? Yep. Alumni? Uh-huh. Events? Sure. But “Academics”? That’s crazy talk!

Oh, and how about contact information made clearly available? You know, a mailing address and main campus phone number at the bottom of the front page, or if that can’t be managed, a “Contact” link which actually provides that information rather than a fucking request-for-information form.

One last observation: At those universities which don’t require design uniformity for all departments, the absolute worst websites are invariably the Art and Computer Science pages. The artists have to show how goddamned artsy they are, which usually means you have to mouse around a dark page hoping you’ll highlight something that will take you to a page you can actually read, while the geeks have to demonstrate their superiority to you by creating a page which requires some sort of goddamned code to figure out what’s going on.

And they each have an unseemly attraction to black backgrounds with tiny yellow or purple print. Here’s a tip: Don’t use a black background with tiny yellow or purple print.

Unless you don’t care if no one uses your site, ever.