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Slate Portal Q&A with Emma Hayek

Written By:
Emma Hayek
Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Rewind to last month, and you may have caught my Slate Innovation Festival presentation: “Portal Inspiration, Features, and Unique Uses.” (And if you missed it, you’ll definitely want to keep reading.) 

My former Creighton University colleague Libby Glenn and I originally planned to present at Summit 2020, but the world had other plans. While I ended up taking a position at Underscore on the Implementation & Consultation team in the meantime, my friends at Creighton gave me the green light to co-present as originally planned. 

Now, to why you’re reading this.... Slate portals. It was an ongoing joke in the office that my solution to everything was to make a portal.

Having a completely customizable single sign-on system to dynamically display information is incredible. It opened a lot of possibilities for us to improve our own staff’s user experience, as well as for prospective students.

There were quite a few questions asked in the webinar that we didn’t have time to address; I will answer some of them below, as well as provide some additional pieces of advice. You are able to watch the recording of the webinar here.

If you’d like to receive a link to the complete slide deck, just fill out this quick form.

How do the tabs on the portal work?

Each tab is a different portal view. Each view has a static content block at the top with a navigation bar that links to the other views.

How did you get the slides for the admissions lobby signage to advance every eight seconds?

I added JavaScript to the end of the content block in the portal:

<script>var myIndex = 0;


function carousel() {

  var i;

  var x = document.getElementsByClassName("mySlides");

  for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) {

x[i].style.display = "none"; 



  if (myIndex > x.length) {myIndex = 1}

  x[myIndex-1].style.display = "block"; 

  setTimeout(carousel, 8000); // Change image every 8 seconds



If you want to advance the slides every 5 seconds instead of every 8 seconds, change carousel, 8000 to carousel, 5000. How did I know how to do this? I didn’t. I found this code online after a few Google searches.


How much upkeep do the portals require?

It really depends on the portal.

The financial aid package portal took a lot of work to build out and get up and running, but now requires minimal upkeep. Each year before releasing financial aid packages, we test and make any necessary updates, but there usually aren’t many changes year-over-year.

The same is true of the admissions lobby signage portal. The only upkeep for the signage portal is when a new event template is added. In that case, another subquery filter would need to be added to include those students in the looping.

The upkeep for our applicant status portal (prospective student portal) is constant. One of the challenges of having such a robust student portal is that information must constantly be added, updated, or removed. I kept a folder of queries specifically to find example students to impersonate for portal quality control.

Any other tips for portal design and maintenance?

Keep your portal manager in the loop.

It is incredibly helpful to have the person who is maintaining the portal attend weekly counselor update meetings, receive the notes, or be included in their Outlook contact group so they receive email updates – or all three. Extended deadlines, program name changes, adjusted test-optional policies, new scholarships, common points of confusion – all of these are important things to be aware of when creating relevant and engaging portal content.

Make the portal a go-to resource.

Think about how many emails you send to your applicants, frequently with very important information. Now multiply that by the number of schools that student has applied to. Students are asked to keep track of a lot during the college search process, so view the applicant portal as a repository of all important information. If it was emailed to them and has a CTA, it probably should be in the portal, too.

Remember your audience.

We all know this, but it bears repeating – the college search process can be very overwhelming and stressful. Have a student worker or someone who isn’t as familiar with your admissions lingo read your copy and make sure it makes sense. Explain things simply. Link to any pages they would need to access – for example, if they need to log into another system to complete a housing application, make sure you give them step-by-step instructions. Merge in a one-time password if they need it. Tell them if they have already activated their account.

Don’t let coding intimidate you.

Learning a very basic amount of HTML and CSS will get you farther than you think. Once you know the basics of divs, spans, and other basic building elements, you can Google pretty much anything you want to do, find example code, and tweak it to fit your needs. Want to add a top border to a block of content to help break up a long page? Google “how to add a top border CSS” and the top result will almost certainly be from W3 Schools. Click on “Try it Yourself” and you have the entire block of code that you can drop into a static content block and edit. W3 Schools is a terrific resource for a novice coder, or for someone who doesn’t want to start the code from scratch.

Branding goes a long way.

Work with your marketing department or web team to get the basic information you need to follow brand standards – hex codes of your brand colors and brand fonts (likely already hosted in Slate in your file editor). Imagine if every school a student applied to had a plain text, black and white, Times New Roman portal. Your visual brand identity matters.

Add a static content block for all CSS for your page.

Still not sure about coding? Work with someone at your institution to add the CSS you would need for headers, links, etc. in a separate static content block at the top of the portal page. It won’t house any content, just CSS. It also makes updating all headers to a new color a breeze, for example.

Learn to love liquid markup.

Existence fields and a bit of liquid markup will allow you to create incredible personalization in the portal. Other than the Slate Knowledge Base articles on Fundamental Liquid Markup and Conditional Logic and Advanced Liquid Markup, I have a few favorite resources for liquid markup:

Interested in getting help building out portals? Contact Underscore to learn how we can help. 

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About the Author

The Slate Geek. Emma Hayek’s career in higher ed started immediately after college graduation, at place a place she knew and loved – her alma mater Creighton University. After serving as a counselor for a few years, Emma transitioned to managing digital marking for undergraduate admissions – which is when her love for Slate really grew. Emma’s specialties? Creating efficiencies, improving the student experience, and empowering Slate users. But when she’s not geeking out over configurable joins, liquid markup and portals, you can find her outside hiking, camping, or playing with her dog.


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