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With a click, new admissions website brings Berkeley to the world

Like the campus itself, UC Berkeley’s new admissions website — the window through which most students catch their first glimpse of the university — teems with traditions, possibilities and practicalities. The site is intended to connect students with the campus, its faculty and staff, its hangouts and libraries and each other.

students at Sather Gate

Like the campus itself, UC Berkeley’s new admissions website — the window through which most students catch their first glimpse of the university — teems with traditions, possibilities and practicalities.

Roll a cursor over any of the 20 muted squares that make up the homepage grid, and the square expands in a burst of bright color, with a few words —“Be Berkeley,” or “Explore,” or “Apply” — and an orange button. Click, and a world opens.

Prospective students who click on “Apply” are led step by step through the application process. Parents who open “Invest” can easily navigate costs and financial-aid options. Clicking on “Visit” yields all the information needed to check out the campus, either in person or online.

Admissions website home page“Explore” brings up a three-dimensional, interactive campus map, with more than 100 buildings pictured, that forms the heart of the new website. Three variations of the map hide under rollover buttons labeled “Live,” “Study” and “Connect” and each presents the campus from a different perspective. The map offers people anywhere in the world a feel for all the possibilities that a Berkeley education offers, and for the richness of the  the tapestry it weaves from academics, research, community, tradition and connections to the broader world.

“We want to reflect the dynamic and multifaceted Berkeley student experience,” says Rita Kasperek, who has supervised the creation of the new website as an editor in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. “It’s youthful, energetic and friendly. We want people to be able to picture themselves here.”

The centerpiece of the website is the interactive map, which went online just last week and is still being loaded with content. When it’s complete, a high-school kid in Berkeley or Bangor or Beirut will be able to click on buildings on the “Live” map, for example, and get a look at the dorm he or she might live in, check out the food at the closest Cal Dining café and browse students’ postings about their favorite hotspots. The “Study” map will link to information about each classroom building, research that’s going on, the various colleges and spots where students like to hit the books.

A good example of how the site will work is already up and running on the “Connect” map, which highlights landmarks, libraries, cultural points of interest like BAM/PFA, gyms and fields and popular gathering places, from the MLK Student Union to Caffe Strada. Click on the green “Campanile –Sather Tower” button and a popup box opens, offering a mix of factoids about the tower itself (“it’s the second-tallest bell and clock tower in the world”) with a nugget of history (a photo of Jane Sather) and an audio link where you can listen to the sound of the Campanile’s carillon.

Admissions website mapWant to know more? The “Read More” link connects to a full page of information about the tower’s history and traditions, information about how to visit, and the surprising news that any Berkeley student can actually learn to play the carillon.

There are other surprises, too. For instance, behind the sunny campus scene that dominates the page viewers can discover a stark, black-and-white, full-screen shot of the bulbous trees that guard the tall tower. All it takes to reveal the bigger image is a click on the tiny arrow at the upper-right corner of the page’s main frame. The same arrow on another page might reveal a skateboarder, a student winking or another image conveying Berkeley’s lively character.

“The overarching goal is connectivity — connection to the students, to the professors and staff as well as to Berkeley’s legacy and tradition,” says Molly Duggan of the San Francisco branding and strategic communications consultancy Molly Duggan Associates, which developed the site for the admissions office.

The website started with one concept: showing prospective students, their families and high-school counselors — the main groups that use the site — that the kind of education Berkeley offers will shape their lives in a way that no other university can, says Duggan.

By offering its wealth of information in bite-size, step-by-step pieces, the admissions office sought to help students feel confident — not just that they can navigate the website, but that they can succeed at Berkeley. A goal was to convey the diversity of thought, of intellect, of age and gender and culture that come together at Berkeley, adds Kasperek.

“Accessibility is a key message,” she says. “We want students to feel there’s access to financial aid, to professors and faculty, and to the resources they need. We want to encourage students who may not think they can get into Berkeley to think again.”

The image-intensive site is also intended to show off the fun parts of being at Berkeley. In addition to the nuts and bolts of admissions, the homepage grid connects directly to athletics, the Golden Bear student blog, student clubs and organizations and Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest sites. It also links visibly to the campus’s proud history — the struggles of the Free Speech Movement, for instance — something students who took part in a focus group said loudly that they wanted.

The interactive campus map is designed to bring all those pieces together, and will, eventually, be a place where students can put up their comments on anything and everything Berkeley.

“I’d like this to be a very holistic representation of the campus, where visitors can learn from local experts,” Duggan says. Adds Kasperek: “The map allows you to relate where you study to where you live, and where you can meet up with other students. It’s a fun way to explore campus.” The map is expected to be complete by the end of November.

Another plus of the new site, based in Drupal and not Flash, is that it will automatically resized itself to work across a host of web browsing devices, including smart phones and tablets, as well as computer monitors, says Duggan.

For the first few months that the admissions site is live, viewers will be able to click a “feedback” button to let the developers know what they think about the site or alert them to functionality or viewing problems.

Molly Duggan Associates is a prominent San Francisco-based firm that developed San Francisco’s ONESF promotional campaign and is now working on branding for the Port of San Francisco’s 150th anniversary celebration. At Berkeley, the firm has worked with the law school to develop its branding.