Study Abroad Search Experience

1. Improve Website
2. New Search Tool

Problem

UW students often don't apply for study abroad because they don't know where to start assessing their options, struggle to parse information on the website, or feel that it isn't possible to fit into their schedule.

Solution

1. Changes to the study abroad website to help students search and compare programs more efficiently and get inspired by other students.

2. A search tool that lets students search for programs based on factors that are important to them, and connect with program alumni.

Learn about
the problem
Brainstorm
solutions
Design,
test, iterate

Process

Client

UW Study Abroad Office

Role

UX Designer
UX Researcher

Independent project through my job at UW-IT 

Methods

  • Semi-structured Interviews 

  • Sketching

  • Wireframes

  • High fidelity mockups

Date

Summer 2017, Ongoing

All Website Recommendations

Learn about the problem

When I started college, I wanted to study abroad. But it never happened. I got distracted by other opportunities, I perceived it to be difficult as an engineering student, and I didn't really know where to start. 

When I started working for UW-IT, I wanted to help more students study abroad. I interviewed students currently looking for a study abroad program and peer advisors in the Study Abroad Office, and drew from prior research on student barriers to studying abroad.

What I learned

Rough User Flows

After they were initially hooked, students usually started by browsing the website. Students I talked to first thought about how they'd fit it into their schedule and where in the world they wanted to go. Logistics like housing and cost usually followed, but could still make or break a program in the students' mind. Many students were open to new locations, at least within the region they were looking for.

Brainstorm

I looked for ways I could help students reflect on what kind of experience they were looking for and sort through their options in meaningful ways.

Brainstorming
Sketching

Encourage academic planning by letting students test different study abroad programs in MyPlan (UW's schedule building system)

Educate students about how the type of program they chose would affect their experience. Also help students prioritize certain factors in their decision by prompting them to rank their filters


Engage students by using the reasons they had for studying abroad and their goals as search criteria. Attach student stories since students tend to inspire each other to study abroad.

Design, Test, Iterate

I had lots of ideas for how to improve the process. I decided to focus on two solutions:

1. Make a list of adjustments to make the search process on the current study abroad website more transparent.
2. Mock up a new search tool that lets students filter programs by both logistical and experience-related factors that are important to them.

Recommendations for the existing website

Recommendations
Recommendation: Label and reprioritize unscheduled programs

Label programs as "Accepting" or "Not Accepting" applications to help them focus on current programs without wading through old ones

Recommendation: Filter by Accepting Applications

Students were annoyed that their search results contained new and old programs. Add a "Now Accepting Applications" filter in the Search Tool

Recommendation: Simplify path to the search tool

The site guides students to explore one factor at a time, which makes it hard to personalize their search. I recommend tabs that give students guidance on searching based on different factors, and then directs them right to the advanced Program Search Tool where they can play with their search criteria freely.

Recommendation: Link to specific blog posts

Since students are heavily influenced by hearing about peers' experience abroad, incorporate specific links to blog posts associated with different locations, types of programs, and topics.

Recommendation: Add planning guide

Show students how to plan around study abroad with the tools they're already using. They'll be more likely to work it into their schedule even with conflicting academic pressure.

All Website Recommendations (PDF)

These recommendations are a starting point for guiding students through the search process, but I saw an opportunity for a new type of search tool that would support students in searching for programs based on meaningful criteria, and easily compare program in a way that isn't possible on the current site.

A New Program Search Tool

Prototypes
Wireframes: Filter Page

Rationale - Get students invested in their exploration process by letting them define what kind of study abroad experience they want

Wireframes: Filter page

Rationale - Tap to expand categories to make it easier to conceptualize different criteria while still keeping them in one place.

Wireframes: Program List

Rationale - List matching filters for each program so students can compare them quickly.

Incorporate student reflections so students because students can be inspired by peer experiences, which is more natural to them anyway.

Wireframes: Program Details

Rationale - Let students quickly scan a program to gauge initial interest

Wireframes: Program Details

Rationale - Lots of students base their choices on students in similar academic situations who went abroad in the past

Wireframes: Student Advice Page

Rationale - Since students make decisions based on peer stories, organize a list of student stories that address common barriers to studying abroad

High-Fidelity Mockups

I made high-fidelity mockups to explore how this concept would be implemented within UW brand guidelines. I used color, negative space, and simple icons to make the visual experience delightful

High-Fidelity Mockups
High-Fidelity Mockups

What I've learned so far

This is an active project that I'm working on right now. I've presented my findings and ideas to the UX Team at UW-IT. Now, I'm usability testing my ideas with real students.

One difficult part of this project was looking at what I found in my research and deciding what type of solution was in the scope of the project; I initially wanted to move straight into creating a new tool, but then realized that I could improve the process for students a lot with a few simple website recommendations.

I had so much fun learning about the very personal and powerful reasons that draw students to study abroad. Hearing about what the experience meant to each person I interviewed made me consider my own goals and values, and encouraged me to keep seeking out adventure and new perspectives.

Stay tuned!

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