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Striking at peak moment, UC Berkeley overhauls its Web site, goes after top students with new recruiting tool
14 Apr 2000

By Kathleen Scalise, Media Relations

BERKELEY -- Offers of university admission are out, high school seniors are pondering their college choices, and now universities are vying for the nation's top students.

On midnight Sunday (April 16), the University of California, Berkeley, is unveiling a new recruitment tool- a major overhaul of its gateway World Wide Web site. The site, at, is the doorway to the most visited educational Internet domain in the world.

The campus intentionally chose to unveil the site this week - the peak period for recruitment efforts - in hopes that students busily cruising college Web sites will linger longer at UC Berkeley's.

"It's an incredibly smart, strategic time to do this," said Andrew Baldock, central campus Web manager. "While some campuses might just change a picture or a link, we've launched a whole new gateway when recruitment is at fever pitch."

Across the country, admissions officers agree that the right Web site can make or break student recruiting efforts, according to a recent story in the Washington Post.

"It's true," said Tony Christopher, senior analyst with the UC Berkeley Office of Undergraduate Affairs and liaison for the student committee providing feedback on the site. "Students can make up their minds based on the information they find on the Web - or the lack of information."

The UC Berkeley admissions staff expects that most admitted students will have visited the campus's Web page prior to Sunday's launch. The new version, they hope, will hook curious students more deeply into the site, causing them to spend extra time considering a future at UC Berkeley.

Visitors won't see flashy colors, animation and high-tech features. Instead, the site is subtly inviting with warm colors, simply labeled categories, photos and quick-moving pages.

The student advisory committee didn't want a "fancy-shmancy Web site" with lots of tricks and flash, said Christopher. "They wanted real information - and a lot of it."

Overall, UC Berkeley's gateway is intended "to express a sense of conviviality," he said. "We're really trying to be warm and welcoming."

UC Berkeley has offered admission to the most impressive 25 percent of its fall 2000 applicants, and this select group "has lots of options in terms of college choice," said Richard Black, UC Berkeley acting assistant vice chancellor of admissions and enrollment. "We have only a month to get out message out, so the Web has become an extremely important tool to us."

The top-to-bottom gateway upgrade also is intended to mark the campus as a Web-savvy place.

"The Internet changed the world in less time than it takes to get a degree," said UC Berkeley web developer Brad Falconer. "As much as anything, the new home page is about proving to students that the campus has what it takes to stay at the forefront."

If a site is "slapped together, and there's not much attention paid to it, to me it reflects on what my student experience is likely to be at that university," said Phillip Leclair, a graduating UC Berkeley senior in economics and student representative on the campus's lead Web steering committee. "A lot of thought went into this page."

The most insidious Web problem, he said, is often what isn't on the Web. Students assume if a program, activity or service can't be found on the Internet, it doesn't exist at a particular university and make their decisions accordingly. But it may just be a Web oversight.

"I've been applying to graduate school, so I've seen a lot of sites," Leclair said. "This is the biggest problem out there."

To address this concern and maximize the usefulness of the site, UC Berkeley's new version operates "portal-style" as an information-intensive resource that runs fast and clean and offers many ways to reach different resources, Baldock said. The site also is designed to maximize access for those with low speed connections and for the disabled, whom the Web developers worked with extensively.

"It runs more like some of the top commercial sites than a typical academic site," Baldock said. He added that the gateway always will be a work in progress and anticipates a flood of response Monday. Critiques will be carefully reviewed for ongoing upgrades.

The site's subtle use of technology, without unnecessary sounds, animation and graphics to clog the flow of information, is a philosophy also used to develop UC Berkeley's new online tour that also debuts Sunday. The tour focuses less on a building-by-building tour, as is the case on many college Web tours, and more on the unique UC Berkeley experience, said Paula Murphy, UC Berkeley gateway Web editor.

"To me, as a student, it shows what you could be doing here every day," Leclair said of the tour. "It captures the experience of being here."

Just because the UC Berkeley Web domain attracts more hits than any other campus - a statistic cited recently by Media Metrix, a firm that measures Internet audience -doesn't mean it can rest on its laurels, Christopher said.

"Just the opposite," he said. "It only means we've given more people permission to have higher expectations of us. And we have a vociferous group of students. We like that kind of student. We pick that kind of student. We want them to come here."



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