UW students often don't apply for study abroad programs; they struggle to use the existing website to find a program that meets their personal and academic needs.
1. Enhance the Study Abroad Website to help students search and compare current programs more efficiently, and get inspired by other students along the way.
2. A search tool that lets students search for programs based on factors that are important to them, and connect with program alumni.
Many of my friends studied abroad, and they had exciting, insightful experiences. Other friends talked about how cool it would be to study abroad, but they never applied. I wanted to learn what went wrong between interest and actually applying to a program. I used innovation time at my UX position within the University.
I started by pursuing the question "what factors influence how students consider their study abroad options?" I interviewed students and and peer advisors in the Study Abroad Office. I also drew from prior survey research on student barriers to studying abroad.
Range of motivations, starting with location. Do they want to improve on a language, experience a specific region they feel has qualities that resonate with them, get exposure to new perspectives, independence, a culturally immersive experience, exploring a specific skill or interest.
Cost. Uncertainty about cost, and the perception that study abroad will cost a lot, discouraged many students from going abroad. Cost of programs is difficult to compare; students usually calculate it by hand.
Peer experiences. Many students chose programs based on recommendations from someone they knew in a similar academic situation
Academic schedule. Students are weary of study abroad because they feel it will conflict with their academic plan and/or extend graduation (especially in competitive majors). Students who had outlined their academic plan in advance felt more prepared to study abroad.
Once I understood what was important to them, I asked how their experience had been using the Study Abroad Website.
"I can't find information on the website." Students struggled to find a program based on their unique situation (including above considerations)
and were confused about which programs were actually being offered in future quarters.
"It's not clear what my options are for next quarter" Students were confused about which programs were actually being offered in future quarters.
"I don't know what will fit into my schedule." Students are weary of study abroad because they feel it will conflict with their academic plan and/or extend graduation (especially in competitive majors)
"Not sure if I'll get in, and I don't know what it's gonna be like!" Students are discouraged by the multiple levels of uncertainty; will I get get into the program? Will I be able to adjust to another culture? Will I miss out on extracurriculars?
I thought about ways to help students meaningfully sift through options in a way that aligns with their natural process.
How can we help students incorporate study abroad into their academic plan?
How can we help students understand how the structure of a program will impact their subjective experience?
How can we incorporate peer inspiration into their search experience?
How can we help students prioritize factors that are important to them?
I focused solutions on value I could add right now, then value I could add in the future. My solutions:
1. Make a list of adjustments to make the search process on the current study abroad website more transparent.
2. Conceive a new search tool that filters programs by logistical and experience-related factors that are important to students.
Label programs as Accepting or Not Accepting, and prioritize Accepting. Most students only wanted to see programs they could apply to. Currently they're forced to wade through a combination of the two.
Students were annoyed that their search results contained new and old programs. Add a "Now Accepting Applications" filter in the Search Tool
The makes students specify an attribute (location, term, type, focus, etc.) to start their search. Many students don't know what "type" of program they want without some context. I recommend tabs that give students context for what these attributes mean in terms of their subjective experience, but only one call to action, taking them to where they can filter by multiple factors right away.
Students are heavily influenced by hearing about peers' experience abroad. Why not incorporate links to specific blog posts associated with different locations, types of programs, and topics?
Academic constraints are a huge barrier. Let's show students how to plan around their other academic requirements. They'll be more likely to work it into their schedule if they're encouraged to use existing planning tools to make it work.
These recommendations are a starting point for guiding students through the search process, but there was still opportunity to provide value in several ways...
Help students search for programs based on more personally meaningful criteria, educating them about how their preferences translate to program attributes
Align the digital search experience with their natural process
Help students easily compare programs by different factors.
I conceptualized a tool that could support students more directly. This has not been implemented; the goal is to start a conversation about how a digital tool can serve students in the Study Abroad process.
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.
One difficult part of this project was deciding what type of solution was in the scope of the project; I initially wanted to move straight into creating a new tool, but knew that I could improve the process for students significantly with a few simple website recommendations.
I've now presented my concepts to the UX Team at UW-IT, worked with the Study Abroad office to begin implementing recommendations, and passed off the project to a Student Assistant. This project was exciting because I was able to start a new relationship between UW-IT and the Study Abroad Office.