What if college majors were designed more like General Assembly programs?

What if college majors were designed more like General Assembly programs?

International Education Marketing

My love affair with General Assembly continues. I’m slightly obsessed with their user experience design program. My love of ethnography, problem solving, and communication has me dreaming of a job in user experience. (true dream job: travel ethnographer). Some day I’ll take a sabbatical from my current dream job and take a GA course. For now I’m window shopping.

When I get an email from General Assembly I click. I click because they’ve got a strong email marketing game. I’m sure I’ve got a mighty fine behavioral score. But I return to their website each time because I know that I’ll find a landing page that answers all my questions: So what’s really going on in this course? How much is it? What will I learn and what can I do when I’m done? 

With an admissions-focused communication and design style, General Assembly nails it. They communicate all the program information a prospective student needs in a single place. Their landing pages are also quite easy on the eyes (hello white space!).

Now compare this experience to university websites. Imagine you’re an eager prospective college student, ready to learn all the things. Take a look at the computer science major at Stanford or MIT’s computer science programs page. As you explore your future major, try finding the cost of their programs or career outcomes. Get a feel for the work students get to do or look up faculty. Can you find that information? If you did, how does the experience feel?

Chances are it feels like a chore. And that’s a shame because both schools have killer courses, rockstar faculty, and plenty off opportunities (including scholarships). Now imagine if those college majors read more like General Assembly programs.

Here’s why GA’s prospective student experience works so well:

Clear Learning Goals


No mysteries here. Bold headings tell me exactly what I’ll learn in a clear outline featuring succinct descriptions. Did I mention it’s oh so easy.on.the.eyes?

Financial Aid and Cost

Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 12.04.37 PM


Cost is the top factor in college decision making. GA doesn’t hide their program costs and includes the price right alongside the curriculum. I don’t have to play the guess-and-click game to track down the tuition (and ways to pay for it) elsewhere on the site.

Career Tie In with Company and Alumni Spotlights



Career prospects are a key enrollment driver for prospective students, right up there with affordability and academics. As a prospective student, I can visualize a future at the end of the program. If I’m feeling extra motivated (and I am because I’ve had to do so little work so far) I can research the companies that hire in this field.

Put simply, the prospective student experience with General Assembly programs is down right enjoyable. I feel excited and motivated when I look at their programs. I’m not burdened with hunting down important decision-making information; it’s all served up in one scrollable, mobile friendly package. The experience makes me return to the program again and again.

Grant it, General Assembly offers career accelerator programs not degrees. Plus Stanford and MIT can kick back and ignore user experience because they have gleaming reputations that seem to make the user experience all but irrelevant. But marketing and communication teams in institutions without shiny brands should take note and adapt accordingly.

Can higher education marketing teams create better, more enjoyable experiences for prospective students? It’s remains to be seen. A recent analysis on the failure of schools to adapt to an admissions focused experience on mobile doesn’t inspire hope. University departments are so siloed that it takes a feat of mental gymnastics to imagine career services sharing a digital space with academic departments. With the cost of a college education now synonymous with crushing debt and delayed life events, higher education marketing teams may cringe at being so up front and center about their tuition cost.

I did find a bit of hope in my search for a university website that creates a positive experience for prospective students: my alma matter, the University of Oregon, gets closer to the GA style with their computer science major page. They could use a few more graphic elements to break up the text blocks. Information about their tuition is only one click away, under a menu clearly labeled “Costs & Financial Aid.”

So maybe there is hope. Maybe higher education just needs more user experience designers.


Could MOOCs be a new tool for international admissions?

Could MOOCs be a new tool for international admissions?

International Education International students Marketing

In a way, we’re kind of a lead generator… [t]here are many universities that are very well known in U.S. that are not very well known abroad, and the visibility they get through Coursera is in a way a very efficient way to reach new students. – Richard C. Levin, Coursera CEO in Wired Campus, As Coursera Evolves, Colleges Stay On and Investors Buy In

MOOCs as lead generators: I’d love to see this happen.  And apparently so do Coursera’s investors as they just served up $49 million in VC funds to support Coursera’s new experiments in international markets. While most of the Coursera coverage focuses on MOOCs as professional development tools and mini-degree providers, the quote above introduces a new marketing tool for international admissions. Three-quarters of Coursera’s users are outside the US. For international admissions departments that are as open to experiments as Mr. Levin, the move raises loads of fun questions. A casual list:

  • How do you define an international student on Coursera and what are their motivations? How do online-learning habits differ by country or culture? 
  • How do you identify a future international student – the one who is interested in attending the university hosting the course rather than just gaining new knowledge?
  • How are future international students using Coursera?
  • What’s the value of 40,000 student emails who signed up for a specific university MOOC but didn’t complete it? How does that value shift when 60% of that list completes the course? Would those who complete a MOOC earn a high value score and sky rocket to the top of your engagement list? 
  • How would MOOCs change if part of the course goal was lead generation (i.e. would they include rockstar professors who have a knack for engaging across cultures and platforms? Would they include strategic university swag placement!?)
  • How will university departments – faculty and administration – muster the willpower, curiosity, and design-thinking skills to collaborate across departments to experiment with Coursera as a recruiting platform for future international students?

This last question might actually be the hardest to answer.

Intl Admissions Teams