College and university webpages exist as a source of information for prospective and current students, faculty and donors, but as a branding tool, they do so much more. In many instances, the school website delivers its first message to potential students. It’s the online equivalent of a campus tour. 
Universities work hard to find effective ways to balance the need to deliver necessary info and represent their brand. Here are four examples of schools that have found unique ways to design their websites to satisfy both needs: 
1.       CalTech 
As one of the country’s top universities, CalTech wants prospective students to know what sets it apart from its competitors like MIT, Harvard and Princeton. When you visit the CalTech homepage, the takeaway is clear: Research and development is a big part of their identity. Instead of relying on a prominent top or side navigation bar, the landing page prominently features panels highlighting the awards and innovations of their faculty and students.  You can click on each one to learn more. You clearly understand what the CalTech brand represents (though you may have difficulty navigating through to individual departments). 

2.       Merrimack College
Merrimack College, a small private college north of Boston, covers its bases with two different sites: a conventional website with a predictable navigation and a more modern site aimed at attracting prospective students, aptly named ChooseMerrimack.com. This approach allows more flexibility and informality for reaching out to new students.  ChooseMerrimack.com gives visitors a glimpse into student life at the school in a way that feels like an insider’s view. However, they certainly lose points for not including a prominent call-to-action link to this fun site on their main webpage. 
3.      Middlebury 
Colleges may be concerned that users will overlook important information because they don’t scroll down far enough.  Middlebury College solves this problem by eliminating the scroll-down function.  The navigation menu is listed in a semi conventional way, at the bottom of the page.  However, the additional information that can create bulk is compressed into a graphic of vertical colored bars at the top of the page. The titles of the specific pages are only exposed when a mouse hovers over each bar.  This conservation of space might be expected from a school renowned for its environmental education.
4.    Savannah College of Art and Design, The University for Creative Careers (SCAD)
Schools of art and design should have unique websites to help foster their brand, but they do not always succeed.  SCAD demonstrates its skill through its website, displaying a single photograph of a design by a student or alum.  The rest of the information is accessible but peripheral. This focus on a single design evokes the feeling of being in a museum, observing a masterpiece on display.  Valuing its students’ creations will surely send a strong message to budding artists looking for place to train. 
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