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Showcase of Academic and Higher Education Websites

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College and university websites have a lot of roles to fill. They need to provide information for prospective students (both new and transfer), parents of students and prospective students, current students, and alumni. In many cases, they’re also the gateway to the school’s intranet and the public face for both academics and athletics. They often need to include reams of information in a way that makes everything easy to find. It’s a huge challenge.

And the truth is: most college and university websites are horribly designed. Either they look like they were designed fifteen years ago and then forgotten about, or they’re so overloaded with information that it’s almost impossible to find what you’re looking for.

But not every college or university website is horrible. There are some excellent sites out there, and below are some of them. If you know others, please share them in the comments to this post!

General Colleges & Universities Link

Appalachian State University
Appalachian State University has a simple color scheme and makes great use of icons in their header.

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Ball State University
Ball State University uses a sophisticated color scheme and typography combined with plenty of negative space.

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Bates College
The bold header and grid-based layout work well on the Bates College site.

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Bennington College
Bennington College uses a unique layout and design.

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Berea College
Berea College uses a clean layout, and the cutout in the navigation bar for the logo really sets it apart.

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Case Western Reserve University
Case Western Reserve University uses a unique layout and color options.

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Champlain College
Champlain College uses a sophisticated, muted color scheme and excellent typography.

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Colby-Sawyer College
Colby-Sawyer College has a simple layout with plenty of negative space.

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William & Mary
The bold header image and excellent typography set the William & Mary site apart.

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The College of Wooster
The College of Wooster uses an interactive, animated header.

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Denison University
Denison’s website makes great use of negative space and a simple layout.

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Dickinson College
Dickinson College’s site has a great color scheme and a subtle background image.

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Elon University
Elon University’s site includes a lot of details that make the site look really polished.

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Hamilton College
Hamilton uses a simple color scheme and straight-forward navigation.

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Hampshire College
Hampshire College uses a unique, sophisticated color scheme and typography.

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Lenoir-Rhyne University
Lenoir-Rhyne University has a clean layout and bold header slideshow.

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Marlboro College
Marlboro College makes good use of a simple layout and color scheme.

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Middlebury College
Middlebury College has a completely unique layout with excellent typography.

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Minot State University
Minot State University uses plenty of negative space and clean typography.

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Nebraska Wesleyan University
Nebraska Wesleyan has one of the best-looking college sites out there, with a fantastic background image and excellent typography.

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Northland College
Northland College uses unique typography and grunge elements to stand out.

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Oglethorpe University
Oglethorpe University uses a modern color scheme and typography.

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Ohio Wesleyan University
Ohio Wesleyan uses a bold color scheme and graphics.

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Simmons College
Simmons College uses a clean, grid-based layout and sophisticated color scheme.

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Sweet Briar College
Sweet Briar College steps outside of the norm for a college website and uses a more relaxed, feminine design (appropriate for a women’s college).

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Syracuse University
Syracuse University has a fantastic grid layout and modern color scheme.

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Thomas Edison State College
Thomas Edison State College has a great illustration in their header and a sophisticated color scheme.

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Tufts University
Tufts has a unique layout and excellent typography.

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The University of Alabama
The University of Alabama uses a grid layout and plenty of negative space.

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University of Connecticut
The University of Connecticut’s site has a simple layout and navigation.

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University of Maine Farmington
The University of Maine Farmington’s website uses a basic grid layout and great typography.

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University of Miami
The University of Miami uses a muted color scheme and simple, horizontal navigation.

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University of Minnesota Morris
The University of Minnesota Morris’s site incorporates a number of small details that give the site its polished look.

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University of Nebraska-Lincoln
A simple color scheme and clean, grid-based layout give the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s website a polished and sophisticated look.

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University of Portland
The University of Portland uses a simple layout and color scheme with plenty of negative space.

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University of Rochester
The large background image and non-standard navigation set the University of Rochester’s website apart.

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University of the Sciences in Philadelphia
The University of Sciences in Philadelphia uses a fantastic bright color scheme and clean typography.

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Ursuline College
Ursuline College has a simple layout, good typography, and lots of negative space.

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Vancouver Island University
Vancouver Island University uses a grid layout and fantastic, monochromatic color scheme.

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Wake Forest University
Wake Forest University’s site has clean typography and a simple layout.

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Wesleyan University
Wesleyan University uses a grid layout and sophisticated color scheme.

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Westmont
Westmont utilizes a slideshow header and great color scheme.

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University of Aberdeen
The University of Aberdeen has a fantastic grid layout.

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Bournemouth University
Bournemouth University uses bright accent colors and tabbed navigation.

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University of Bradford
The University of Bradford uses bright accent colors and a grid layout to stand out.

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University of Chester
The University of Chester uses an obvious grid layout, an animated header, and simple navigation.

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Edge Hill University
Edge Hill University has a header slideshow, minimalist color palette, and lots of negative space.

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University of Hull
The University of Hull has a unique layout, simple navigation, and great accessibility features.

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Kingston University London
The Kingston University London’s website uses bright accent colors and simple navigation.

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University of Leeds
The University of Leeds has a simple layout, minimalist aesthetic, and good typography. They also make excellent use of icons to simplify navigation.

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University of Oxford
Oxford uses a simple color scheme and clean layout and makes good use of negative space.

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University of Southampton
The University of Southampton has a bold header and simple color scheme.

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Community Colleges Link

Salt Lake Community College
Salt Lake Community College uses photorealistic and grunge elements, combined with a unique layout.

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Passaic County Community College
Passaic County Community college uses an obvious grid layout and a great color scheme.

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Anoka-Ramsey Community College
Anoka-Ramsey Community College has a unique color scheme and a good use of negative space.

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Columbia State Community College
Columbia State Community College has a simple layout and color scheme with clean typography.

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Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising
FIDM uses an excellent bright color scheme and a prominent slideshow.

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Jamestown Community College
Jamestown Community College’s site has a simple layout and navigation.

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Joliet Junior College
Joliet Junior College has a simple layout with a good use of icons.

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Hagerstown Community College
Hagerstown Community College has a good color scheme, clean typography, and simple navigation.

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Lone Star College System
Lone Star College System makes good use of transparency.

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Washtenaw Community College
Washtenaw Community College has great hand-drawn elements, and a unique layout and color scheme.

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Northland Community & Technical College
Northland Community & Technical College has a sophisticated layout and color scheme.

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Northwest Iowa Community College
The Northest Iowa Community College site uses a mix of collage, photorealistic, and hand-drawn elements.

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Art and Design Colleges & Universities Link

The Art Institute of Boston
The Art Institute of Boston combines a simple layout with bold header graphics.

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Kansas City Art Institute
The Kansas City Art Institute uses bright colors, a collage-style background, and loose grid layout.

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Memphis College of Art
The Memphis College of Art site uses bright bright pink accents combined with a simple design and clean typography.

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Minneapolis College of Art & Design
The patterned background, animated header, and clean typography set the site of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design apart.

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Moore College of Art & Design
Bold graphics and a textured background makes the Moore College of Art & Design site stand out.

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The Ontario College of Art & Design
The Ontario College of Art & Design uses a grid layout and modern orange and white color scheme.

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Pennsylvania College of Art & Design
The Pennsylvania College of Art & Design uses a modern color scheme and bold header.

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California College of the Arts
The California College of Arts uses a unique color scheme and animated header.

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University College Falmouth
University College Falmouth’s site has bright accent colors, lots of negative space, and simple layout and navigation.

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Maryland Institute College of Art
MICA uses a grid layout, muted color scheme, and excellent typography.

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SCAD
SCAD’s minimalist light-on-dark design sets it apart.

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Corcoran College of Art & Design
Corcoran’s mix of minimalist grid design and bold colors is fantastic.

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Emily Carr University of Art & Design
Emily Carr University of Art & Design has a wonderful minimalist layout and clean typography mixed with bold accent colors.

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Oregon College of Art & Craft
Bold background, great typography, excellent navigation.

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Ringling College of Art & Design
The grid layout and bold background give the website of Ringling College of Art & Design a unique look.

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Other Institutions, Colleges & Universities Link

Asian University for Women
The Asian University for Women’s site has an excellent gold and maroon color scheme and plenty of negative space.

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California Institute of Integral Studies
The bold typography and great color scheme of the California Institute of Integral Studies sets it apart.

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Rochester Institute of Technology
The orange and cream color scheme, simple navigation and clean typography make the Rochester Institute of Technology’s site unique.

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Conclusion Link

While the vast majority of college and university websites out there are in need of serious overhaul, there are some fine examples of sites if you look hard enough. If designing a site for a college or university, remember that simplicity and negative space are both important, regardless of the amount of information a site needs to contain.

Smashing Book #5

Hold on tiger! Thank you for reading the article. Did you know that we also publish printed books and run friendly conferences – crafted for pros like you? For example, Smashing Book 5, packed with smart responsive design patterns and techniques.

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Cameron Chapman is a professional Web and graphic designer with over 6 years of experience. She writes for a number of blogs, including her own, Cameron Chapman On Writing. She’s also the author of The Smashing Idea Book: From Inspiration to Application.

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  1. 1

    I have to add my alma mater, Kutztown University to the list. Specifically, the Communication Design department’s website.

    http://www.kutztown.edu/acad/commdes/

    -1
  2. 2

    Excellent, comprehensive review. As you mentioned, academic sites are often really bad (especially middle school ones) and these examples show how it is easy to present important information in a professional format. Lovely!

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  3. 3

    Impressive collection. Websites of educational institution are usually quite nice and there are some in here that really do stand out. Some are a little outdated, but still OK.

    Would’ve liked some more websites from European institutions.

    Some Dutch websites would be:
    http://w3.tue.nl/en/
    http://www.ru.nl/english/
    http://www.universiteittwente.nl/en

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  4. 4

    http://www.edustyle.net makes this post obsolete.

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    • 5

      I use edustyle all the time but still love to browse through this post when I’m looking for inspiration. Edustyle is nice but it doesn’t have a very good “hand-picked” section.

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  5. 6

    Very attractive sites! Kudos to Berea College–my former employer–and its webmaster for making this list!

    I would add that however attractive the design is, even more essential to higher ed sites is that the content be kept up to date. Worse than not finding the information needed on a site is finding it but then discovering that it’s old information.

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  6. 7

    I like the article and I’m really amazed how important it seems to be to have a big picuture on the frontpage. I’m looking for a similar collection of site of dance schools (ballet etc.).

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  7. 8

    here’s a grungier, edgier academic site:
    http://moore.edu.au/
    (i got this this college)

    what do you think?

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  8. 10

    Michael Sawicki

    March 19, 2010 5:00 am

    I love colleges and universities that understand that having a great web site is so important. It’s one of the very first things a prospective student sees when they are looking for a school. You MUST impress them right away.

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  9. 11

    Dmitriy Plekhov

    March 19, 2010 5:09 am

    Thank you Cameron. Very intresting post.
    Another great examples:
    Princetone University, USA http://www.princeton.edu/main/
    Howard Florey Institute, Australia http://www.florey.edu.au/

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  10. 12

    I couldn’t be any less satisfied with my own universities website. It has always bugged me. They feel the need to add in irrelevant photo’s (most likely from istock) everywhere I look. It’s impossible to navigate, I can never get to what I need.

    So I’d add to the conclusion that comprehensible navigation, tooltips, and consistency of design are also important.

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  11. 13

    I am the Webmaster (read Web Designer) for the University of South Florida’s College of Behavioral & Community Sciences (quite a mouthful, I know), and we are working on a redesign of our departmental sites. We have finished two of 8. Critique is welcome!

    http://csd.bcs.usf.edu/
    http://rmhc.bcs.usf.edu/

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    • 14

      Hi Jason:

      I entered in both sites, and there are some suggestions:

      1. The header has a liquid construction, so it spread across my screen while the rest of the page seems to be of a fixed at a width of 700 px. I would suggest to let the header be fixed as well.
      2. At the header search tool, the phrase “All BCS” breaks into a second line. A little bit confusing.
      3. I would suggest enlarging the main content box from 700 px to something like 980px. I don’t know if your stats advise for a 700px width layout, but my sites have less than 5% of users with a screen resolution of 800px.

      Regards.

      Carlos

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  12. 15

    The Ontario College of Art and Design is actually a university with its old name. Not a community college.

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  13. 16

    I would also add Full Sail University (entertainment, media, and arts school) – http://www.fullsail.edu.

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    • 17

      Cesar Mujica Castro

      March 19, 2010 2:24 pm

      Definitely

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    • 18

      I completely agree with Carol. Full Sail University has a great website.

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    • 19

      Can’t believe Full Sail didn’t make it on the list, they are massive in media! I don’t know anyone that has ever attended there, but have been to the site on a few occasions over the past few years.

      Cameron – amazing list. Seriously nice work.

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  14. 20

    It’s great to see my Alma Mater Ball State University second on this list. That’s where I learned my trade, but no University of Evansville, where I currently work. Make sure to check out http://www.evansville.edu.

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  15. 21

    You forgot one of the best new technology schools in Canada!

    The Center For Arts and Technology

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  16. 22

    Dana College out of Blair Nebraska has a good site also.
    http://www.dana.edu/

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  17. 23

    Full Sail University has an excellent website:

    http://www.fullsail.edu

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  18. 24

    I’ll be homer and suggest this one too: North Carolina State University http://www.ncsu.edu/

    Some of these are quite impressive. Dickinson’s stands out.. it seems a bit more clean and polished that many of the others. Some seem to be trying a little too hard, but I think DC nailed it.

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    • 25

      than** many of the others.

      self-imposed grammar police

      Katy, don’t get too upset. I don’t think Cameron meant anything personal, and she certainly didn’t say anything against the institution or its alumnae.

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  19. 26

    http://www.virginia.edu makes great use of ajax and jquery as well as icons and interactive features.

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  20. 27

    I don’t even know where to start:

    “Sweet Briar College steps outside of the norm for a college website and uses a more relaxed, feminine design (appropriate for a women’s college).”

    Subtle, backhanded sexism pervades many people’s perceptions of women’s colleges. Do some research about the remarkable alumnae of these institutions before you pass judgment.

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    • 28

      Wow, Katy… that’s like saying that oreos are racist. You won’t get far on the Internet with oversensitivity like that.

      The author was just saying that a relaxed design fit the theme of a women’s college. He didn’t mean to imply anything other than that.

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      • 29

        Hey Ben,

        I totally concur with Katy about the implications of the site design – yuck, a big turn off and pretty much anti real women.

        BTW, the author is female, not male as you seem to assume.

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        • 30

          I’ll just paste this here from above:

          Katy, don’t get too upset. I don’t think Cameron meant anything personal, and she certainly didn’t say anything against the institution or its alumnae.

          Let’s keep things in perspective guys.

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    • 31

      I have to agree with Katy and will go a step beyond what she said—the site shouldn’t even be on this list. The graphics are terrible and outdated. It looks like a poorly designed web site for a pre-school or daycare. It should not be complimented on its “more relaxed, feminine design”. A serious college deserves a serious web site, be it a women’s college or not.

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      • 32

        Jenn, I concur with you wholeheartedly. This site reinforces the stereotypical view of women and is not worthy of being showcased. And I am a female.

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    • 33

      You are always complaining, god…

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  21. 34

    Concordia, up here in Moorhead, just launched a very cool virtual tour. It’s fullscreen HD video bringing you along the trails on campus from classroom to the stadium to the res halls…


    http://www.concordiacollege.edu/experience

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  22. 35

    Always nice to see a big showcase of similarly themed sites. It’s good to see a few of these establishments breaking away from the grid-based layout – which is the norm for sites with deep navigation.

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  23. 36

    Feel like this list is a mixed bag. A bunch could’ve been left off and have a shorter quality list. Lone Star College System? Marlboro College? Not well polished by a long shot.

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  24. 37

    Some nice sites are listed here! This can be used as inspiration for corporate web design.

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  25. 38

    University of Aveiro
    http://www.ua.pt

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  26. 39
  27. 40

    Is it just me or do The University of Alabama and Elon University’s websites look STRANGELY similar??

    Thanks for the article, SM!

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    • 41

      Elon’s Web Dev here – Yep, we thought the same – but ours was released 6 months before… :-)

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  28. 42

    Great showcase. Missed one for the Art & Design schools, check out the Columbus College of Art & Design. http://www.ccad.edu

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  29. 43

    I’ve been looking for a resource like this for a while. Thanks. In my search for well-designed college sites, one good one I found was Biola University (http://www.biola.edu/).

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  30. 44

    Seriously? While I will agree that there are some good sites here, I think over half could have been left off.

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