Best practices for graduate recruitment on the web

Set a clear priority for your site.
Demonstrate that priority by placing it first on any list and repeating it often throughout your site. (Apply Now. Apply Now. Apply Now!)

Make your page easier to scan.
Decrease your word count by half, use relevant headings and bulleted lists. Let prospective students click for full text if they are interested in reading more - don't bog them down.

Leverage the "F" scanning pattern.
Place your most important and interactive content in the center area just below your banner.

Prioritize your content to maximize the window.
75% of people don't scroll down to see what is below the first screen, so prioritize your content to have the most important information viewable. The UNL template allows for precious little content "above the fold" so you need to provide a compelling reason for a visitor to scroll down.

Avoid "marketese" language.
Everyone has world-class faculty and cutting edge facilities. What makes your program unique? Why should a prospective student choose you over your competitors? Try to articulate that to prospective students in a genuine way.

Eliminate clicks.
The average surfing session consists of 35 page views lasting an average of 27 seconds each (although I suspect the average time shrinks every year). Treat your site as if it is the 33rd page they've visited and you only have 2 pages to recruit them!

Anticipate questions and make the answers easy to find.
When is your application deadline? Do you require the GRE? What funding is available?

Use the UNL Template.
We have compelling reasons.
Presentations by Professors Barney McCoy and Jerry Renaud to the UNL Campus Communicators Group, Fall 2006

Presentation by Seth Meranda and Michelle Howell Smith to department staff, Fall 2006

Mike's Eight Web Design Principles by Mike Mathieu, published in NAGAP Perspectives, Winter 2005

Why use the template?

Build on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln brand
The public identity of each department is strengthened by a strong association with the UNL brand. Very few units at UNL can afford to build their own recognizable brands.

The entire university community helped to design it
All students, faculty, staff and alumni were invited to provide feedback on the template design.

Benefit from the work of others
There are over 150 members of the UNL Web Developer Network dedicated to the continuous improvement of the UNL website. The template is on the cutting edge of accessibility, code compliance and design and by using the template you leverage the expertise of the entire university's resources.

Make your web page accessible to everyone
The law requires us to be accessible. Using the template according to the guidelines is the easiest way to achieve the highest standards for accessibility. It is in Triple-A conformance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines as formulated by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
Keep up with the latest advances
The template is future-proof. Not only is it compliant with accessibility requirements, it's constructed of valid code. Browsers are becoming less tolerant of errors in the HTML and CSS code that makes up a web page. UNL's is done according to Hoyle.

Easy access to the online calendar
The easiest way to publish a calendar online is through, and that calendar is in the templates. The UNL templates include a mechanism that allows your unit to display its upcoming events as a feed out of the UNL calendar.

Benefit from the recognition of the template design
Sites based on the templates have won awards (Admissions, specifically) and other major research universities have noticed our work and are developing sites heavily influenced by our site.

Oh, and because Harvey said so.

Personal email from Robert Crisler, UNL Webmaster, December 2006

Suggested Navigation Links for Departmental Sites

The 2009 version of the UNL template places site navigation links at the top of the page in an expandable shelf. This page's navigation shows the basic content we recommend including.

The template also designates a space for related links — sites/pages outside your site which are likely to be useful to people browsing your site — in the page footer.

Department Home
  • Events — list colloquia, research events, conferences that faculty and students are attending, departmental socials, etc. (Try using!)
  • Directory — list all faculty, staff, grad students, post docs and any undergraduate TAs
  • Contact Us — clearly indicate who to contact for what; give names, phone numbers, emails and mailing addresses
Prospective Graduate
  • Apply Now — include a link to the online application on every page!
  • Application Information — deadlines, application materials requirements, TOEFL minimums, average GRE scores, links to any special documents or forms, etc.
  • Funding — information about assistantship and fellowships, links to applications, etc.
Prospective Undergraduate
  • Apply Now
  • Application Information
Current Students
  • Graduate Student Directory — include undergrad/masters degree info, current research, link to web page or email addresses
  • Graduate Program Information — degree requirements, comps, entrance exams, link to bulletin, etc.
  • Undergrad Program Information — degree requirements, link to bulletin, etc.
Faculty & Research
  • Research Areas — summarize major research areas and link to related faculty/group pages
  • Faculty by Area — list all faculty, grouped by specialty area to make it easier for students to find potential mentors, and link to individual faculty pages
  • Facilities — highlight research facilities
About the Department
  • Highlights — summarize any recent awards, big grants, new facilities equipment, whatever!
  • History — give a background on the department - what is it known for and why
  • Alumni — list all alumni by year, current place of employment and a link to their website if available.

Linking to the Application

When linking from your page to our Application for Graduate Admission, use That tidy little alias will always automatically redirect to the true URL of the application form.

Using the full URL instead will still work, of course, but the full URL is longer, more complicated, and not entirely permanent: webapp&featureId=grad

Web Development Resources

Template Training

Any web developer unfamiliar with the templates should sign up for an introductory session. New templates were released in August 2009.

UNL Web Developers Network

For newbies and old pros alike, the WDN is one-stop information shopping for web development at UNL: rules and tools, individual help with specific issues, a place to share ideas for new features, and more.
  • WDN Style Book
    A step-by-step description of the parts of the template you can edit, with rules and guidelines for usage.
  • WDN Content Styling Resources
    Ready-made styles make it easier to develop an aesthetically pleasing site and follow template guidelines.
  • WDN Bulletin Board
    The place where UNL web developers communicate — sharing tips, answering questions, and more.
  • WDN Monthly Meetings
    Register as a user on the Bulletin Board and you'll receive meeting announcements.
  • WDN Site Registry
    Make sure your site is in the registry so it can be tested for code validity, accessibility, and more.
Related Resources from University Communications

Although these aren't specific to web development, you may find them useful.

UNL Style Guide
UNL standards for what to capitalize, when to spell out addresses or abbreviations, and much more.

UNL Design Toolbox
Intended for print publications, but branding and correct use of logos may be of use for web development.