The Digital College Search: A Tale of Two EDU Website Experiences

The Digital College Search: A Comparison of Two EDU Website Experiences

It’s hard to believe that I started my career in higher education marketing nearly 20 years ago. Over that timeframe, I have met some of the most inspirational faculty, staff and students in the world. I love our clients. Education is my home, my passion and love. My two children are now 12 and 15, and have lived through the day-to-day of their mom talking about every college in the country. They have socks that include Greenwaves, Anteaters, Billikins, Terriors and [insert countless other college logos here]. They have been grilled on the questions to ask when choosing and comparing colleges.

More recently, I have had the opportunity to explore the college search process with my daughter who just finished her freshman year at Xavier High School here in Cedar Rapids. She is insanely interested in criminal justice. Her most recent activities have been sitting in on dispatch at the Cedar Rapids Police Station, learning the Police Dog in Marion’s training regimen, learning how the fingerprint process is done from a real officer and Face Timing with a real FBI agent. She is attending the Middlebury Interactive Language Academy in Vermont this summer, in which she will sign a language pledge to only speak Arabic for 30 days. Her dream job is to be an FBI agent.

So why is this important? Where are you going with this, Ann? Well, I was recently researching colleges online—because that is what helicopter parents do. My daughter’s dream college is the University of Maryland. So naturally, I started there.


The University of Maryland is a tremendous school. They have the U.S. News & World Report top-ranked undergraduate Criminal Justice program. Today, I learned that I will be in Baltimore in two weeks visiting a client. I thought to myself: perfect, my daughter is out of school for the summer and we should go and start the college visit process.

My first stop was to the University of Maryland’s website. I quickly jumped to the campus visit page. Good news! There are a lot of different types of visit programs including Terrapin Tours, Information Sessions, Terp for a Day programs and self-guided tours. Great, lets dig in and schedule something!

The Information Session and Terrapin Tour will be perfect. Well maybe not. There are currently no visits scheduled in May, June, July, August, September…and on and on. This might be a complete assumption on my part, but if you are in the business of recruiting students, and they are available in the summer, wouldn’t it make sense to have summer programs scheduled?

Well, maybe I am in the wrong place online. It happens. So let’s go ahead and email the Contact Us at the school, maybe they can help. Email sent. Auto response received three hours later with a standard follow up.

OK so there are options, click on the link and see what they say. After clicking on the link in the email I am directed to a 303 page error. Well, I guess I will wait for the office to respond and see what they say. 12+ hours later, I was notified that I should check back in June for their summer visit schedule.

Meanwhile, we research the other top 20 programs on US News. Interestingly enough, Arizona State University has the #5 Ranked Undergraduate Program. They have been showing up in my Facebook feed lately with their ASU Prep Digital. Why don’t we check it out?

Not only does ASU have a customized campus visit program, they also have programs scheduled out on all campuses through the end of August. Perfect. Let’s get signed up. And after registering, I had the opportunity to cruise back to the page forASU Digital Prep program a few times from this awesome Facebook ad promoting their extensive offerings, including options for criminal justice. ASU lays out the most amazing opportunities for students, like high school credits that transfer into a direct college degree. The flexibility can be a class, a part-time program or a full integration that will transfer into your college program.

Not only does the website provide a direct pathway for students to do online classes and earn up to 33 college credits while in high school, but it also provides amazing customer service. The chat feature on this website and the knowledge of the admissions team is tremendous. In less than five minutes, I was directed to a curriculum page, answered questions on cost, timeframe, enrollment and figured out options for my daughter to shave off a year of college that she can spend doing a master’s program.

Maximizing the Digital College Search Experience

The goal of this post isn’t to judge or point out right and wrong. It isn’t to challenge how a college schedules visits and programs that work for them. The University of Maryland certainly isn’t struggling with enrollment and has top-ranked programs across the board. The goal is to share that an out-of-state, full pay student/parent who is exploring college options can have their impression fully shaped by your web presence, user experience, amount of information and responsiveness of the customer service experience—all within minutes of searching.

Super excited to continue this journey with my daughter and to learn more about all of the wonderful options that she and other prospective college students have in their future. If you have an interesting customer service or college visit experience story that you would like to share, please email me. We would love to explore it and share it with our tremendous community of learners.



Ann Oleson
Ann Oleson
May 11, 2018