Why Drupal is a perfect fit for websites for educational institutions

Drupal websites for universities


On April 24, 1985, the first five US universities gained a domain that had ".edu." in their URL: University of California, Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon University, Purdue University, Rice University, and University of California, Los Angeles. At first, this possibility was available to any educational institution in the world, but since 2001 only American universities can access these domains.

By May 2020, Educase has registered 7,537 sites that have ".edu." in their URL. Our article is a grain of sand in a desert, but we did not try to describe all the sites of American universities. Our goal as Drupal development professionals is to show that one of the most popular CMS is perfect for developing websites in the field of education or science.

We’re developing the Bibliography & Citation (or BibCite) project and helping others to get to know it, we are staying in touch with universities, libraries, and research centers, whose websites are created on the Drupal CMS. The project is a set of modules that allows keeping, outputting, exporting and importing bibliographic data. We want to help even more institutions. The project is irreplaceable for professionals working with data sources that are valuable for science and humanity.

Why Drupal is a perfect fit for websites for educational institutions

  • Drupal is an open-source system that is essential for this type of organization: open source provides a rather low price, security, flexibility for millions of students and teachers around the world. It is also an opportunity to move to distance education which is so important now.
  • A large community of Drupal developers and enthusiasts are always ready to advise or provide their services.
  • Thanks to multisite functionality, developers can build a “solar system” of sites around one core. Very often, an educational institution is a complex that includes schools, colleges, libraries, sports teams, etc., which can have their own websites. If these sites use the same modules, then you can have a common code base for them. 
  • Drupal website differs from its competitors in taxonomy. Taxonomy is functionality for creating categories of content that assemble website materials. With its help, it is easy to build a complex multifaceted structure, where the same material may refer to different categories.
  • You don’t have to be a developer to administer Drupal websites. The basic functionality can be obtained by putting several checkmarks on the menu. A Drupal theme provides a layout for a website, so you don't have to code it.
  • University websites are often served by the students themselves. PHP has a low entry threshold so that you can replace one student with another for some reason (if the student is graduating soon, for example).
  • Drupal allows you to create accounts for different categories of users with different access rights to functionality and data on the website. What teachers see is not available to students.
  • Drupal websites are adapted for mobile devices by default. It is important because mobile traffic has been prevailing over the desktop. How many students and teachers do you think have a mobile phone?
  • Drupal supports interface localization for over a hundred languages. This allows you to develop websites for educational institutions around the world.
  • You can set up marketing campaigns for email and social networks with this CMS.
  • Users of the website get collaboration tools. Students can work together on research or the FAQ section with the help of the “Book” module.

Now we'll tell you a little bit about each website. But before — a small side note. We wrote this article during the events that have affected everyone. Therefore, the websites are similar to each other with news about COVID-19, statements on racial discrimination, and mob violence. This was reflected in the UX/UI of the home pages, but, after a few months, news agenda and websites may change again. Based on the above, we will ignore such impending changes.

Rice University website

The University of Houston, Texas, is one of the very first institutions that registered domain that has ".edu." in their URL.

This website, like all the rest in this article, uses the common practice. On one side, the university website serves as a catalog where its visitors, whether they’re guests or applicants, get acquainted with the university, its mission, values, community, conditions of entry, and possible vacations for graduates.

These sections are mentioned in the navigation panel under the hero image and are duplicated in the fixed hamburger menu so that a user always has access to them.

On the other hand, it’s a portal that leads users to subdomain websites with a news feed, a university journal, a calendar of events, a student center. As we said before, a university’s website may look like a centuries-old tree. These subdomains are built-in partly on WordPress and other CMSs, but Drupal still prevails.

Rice University website

Yale University website

Along with Harvard, Princeton, and other Ivy League American universities, Yale University is the dream of young and ambitious people from all over the world. However, no snobbery associated with this on website pages. Going to the main page, it seems that you are dealing with a popular science magazine, one of plenty that had become the initial impetus to education and a successful career for many of us. Website designers are not indifferent to drop-down menus and combined their work with the principle of taxonomy: the user receives a selection of materials from different subdomains by clicking on each menu item in the «The parts that make Yale whole»‎ section. Another scenario for working with the section is the «Shuffle button»,‎ which surprised us by the fact that it is there, and also demonstrated how wide the University's specialization is.

Yale University website

Bucknell University website

Private Humanities University website in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, has a bright video on the main page that introduces the institution’s territory. Designers and developers showed us a good example of creating a university website that would successfully pass the detailed audit: modern design, neat content representation and layout, a lot of free space, headlines. The university is active in the popular social media of the planet and does not hesitate to focus on this — you know, young people check their social media every minute. The Fastspot studio has received many awards and a nomination by Webby for the best website redesign for a reason.

Bucknell University website, the integration with social media

The George Washington University website

A large and bright showreel introduces guests of this site to the learning process and the culture of the University that is comfortable for people of all nations and religions. We do not know what percentage of visitors are converted into students, but we are sure that it is very large. On the main page, there’s very clear guidance on what to do (FIND A PROGRAM, VISIT, APPLY) and clearly set out CTA.

The George Washington University website, Call-To-Actions

The University of Texas at Austin website

The best motivation for a committed and educated young person is participation in world-changing activities, isn’t it? So, the website opens with the showreel slogan “What starts here changes the world”. Right after — the news about the computer model created by the University: it helped to understand the process of adaptation of coral reefs to global warming. Below — two profiles of 2020 graduates. Everything that follows further strengthens the idea of the importance of the university to the world in general and Texas in particular and is complemented by the CTA that calls to learn more about this community and fit into it.

The University of Texas at Austin website

Brown University website

It is one of the most prestigious American universities, which was teaching a Nobel laureate and founders of the Fortune 500. The university’s website designers are pretty good at UX-copywriting and layout design. Under one drop-down menu “For you”, they have collected links that are usually scattered all over the profile header: sections for students, employees, graduates, parents and friends. Also, we see an elegant solution to break the news into two sections — “Featured” and “Most Recent” — and watch previews of news without leaving the homepage. The same trick was applied to the "Find your way around Brown" entry section. All of this together with balanced content gives the most pleasant user experience.

Brown University website, the news section
Brown University website, the drop-down menu “For you”

Middlebury College website

The university named after the Middlebury city, Vermont state, has won the status of one of the most prestigious humanitarian universities in the United States for more than two centuries. We'd love to confess that this site is not like others from our review. It has the most laconic main page with the most original navigation in the news section which is the main focus. Its design recalls a bookshelf or card index, where behind each "card" a new interview or large article is hiding. This is a bold and possibly effective way to keep and engage users when they find something interesting.

Middlebury College website

University of Nebraska-Lincoln website

The university is famous as a place where the foundations of theoretical ecology were laid. But we loved their website for something else. If you scroll through the news section and photographs of graduates, you will find nine content blocks (like cards) about the colleges that belong to the university. Each profile gives attractively packaged and useful information about the training and immerses a visitor into the atmosphere of the college. You can go very far but bread crumbs will not let you get lost. We believe this is an example of the best university website presentation of the training and directions program in our selection — it’s interesting to read even without the intention to go to university.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln website

Oberlin College & Conservatory website

The world has to say "thank you" to the College of Humanities for a galaxy of writers, comic creators, musicians, directors, screenwriters, and especially for Lena Dunham. This website is truly the symbiosis of moderation, compactness and ease of navigation. The website does not have any showreels and photo galleries but there is a bright pile of color blocks with a different color for each section and a hamburger menu with several nesting levels, where we see all the standard sections about the institution, educational path, teachers, admission procedures, etc.

Oberlin College & Conservatory website


We hope we could persuade you that a website for an educational institution — is not monotonous sheets of text in small print! At least not in 2020! Because today every website (no matter for which sphere) should grab the attention of the user, and the websites for educational institutions should also shout “Come to us!”.

A research of the sites showed that some of them (entirely or partly) still work on the CMS Drupal 7. If you are looking for someone to whom entrust the task of migrating to Drupal 8 or 9 then contact us. Our company will help with a smooth migrating to Drupal, not make mistakes and save your money. Email us at hello@adcillc.com.

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