Telling your admissions story
2017 / PRODUCT DESIGNER / WEB
The college admissions process can be long and grueling. How can we encourage someone to share this journey on our platform?
AdmitSee is an early-stage edtech startup where college students upload their application materials (test scores, grades, personal statements) for high schoolers to access as points of reference during the admissions process. In order to provide value, we need college students to submit as much material as they can.
The problem is that kids weren't filling out their profiles completely. So how do we increase the amount of information college students voluntarily enter into our platform?
I worked with a team of 4 (a PM and two devs) over the span of two months to overhaul our college profile entry flow, turning it from a form-based design into a progressive and conversational experience loosely based on Intuit's TurboTax.
Average profile quality percentage increase:
What's the problem and why should we care?
College students were not fully filling out their profiles. Profiles were being filled out at an abysmal rate, with our profile quality average hovering around 34%. Looking at our convoluted entry process, I couldn't blame our users at all. If college students aren't filling out their profiles, high schoolers won't get value from (and pay for) our product. Additionally, we weren't getting enough data points to build out admissions trends. This was something we need to figure out, quickly.
Why would a user be motivated to fill their profile out?
In order to understand the motivations of our college users, I interviewed four current users at random and built a persona off the interview data.
Looking at my user interviews, a notable takeaway was that money is not the primary motivator for college students to share on AdmitSee. Rather, the process and journey of getting into college is the focal point.
In assessing our college profile entry flow, there were several things that stuck out:
The form looks very intimidating. Having the questions so close to each other gives off the impression that there's a LOT to fill out...which is kind of the case, but we'd prefer to not make it seem so to the end user.
The form wasn't taking narrative into account. If college users are looking at AdmitSee as a platform to share their admissions story, the current form definitely didn't do anything to encourage that mindset. It was structured according to the information we thought was important, not taking the user journey into account.
The design is sloppy. Question alignment. Tables. Input methods. The whole entry experience looks like it was haphazardly put together. If the input form is this sloppy, it doesn't do any favors having a user trust our platform with sensitive data like personal statements.
How do other products deal with profile entry?
I looked at digital products in the finance & healthcare space to see how they addressed profile entry and input, especially around large swaths of data and sensitive information. I was especially interested in how companies with a strong product design culture (Oscar, Earnest, Intuit) handled trust and delight in form design.
What did the research surface?
College students look at AdmitSee as a place to share their journey and accomplishments
Use of delight goes a long way in having a form people actually enjoy filling out
The user should be aware of their progress within the form entry
Usability matters - having the correct types of form input for certain questions results in the form being shorter and users going through fewer redundant actions
Thoughtful and intentional design leads to trustworthiness
Going off of best practices for forms, I laid out a framework of question types and guidelines for usage By defining ahead of time when we would use certain question types, we can ensure that usability and clarity are built into the profile entry from the very beginning.
Design story #1: Simplify the flow
One of the things I wanted to do is build a sense of momentum for the user, as well as an investment of effort. This could be achieved by putting easy questions like demographic info first and saving longform questions for the end. If a sense of momentum and effort is achieved, we can increase the chance of the user filling out more information.
Design story #2: Design narrative into the profile entry
I created the following sections for the new form:
By structuring the form in this way, the form itself becomes a reflection of the applicant's journey through high school, into college applications, culminating in the advice process.
Design story #3: Make the experience less intimidating
Working with my PM and developer, we decided to explore turning the profile entry into a progressive form, where the next question reveals itself as soon as you answer the current one. The primary benefits for that are to draw the user's focus onto the question at hand, while having the form as a whole seem more palatable.
In order to do that, I had to map out all possible behaviors (when to automatically progress, when to wait for user input, what answers merit a response, etc.). This was done for each section, also utilizing the form input rubric mentioned earlier.
After wireframing, I built a prototype on Framer to mimic the animation I wanted, primarily focusing on the transition from one question to another. We then conducted internal testing, applied visual styling off our style guide and pushed it out into the world.
How does this solution address the original issues?
The form being intimidating: By having a progressive experience where a user is focusing on only one question at a time, we lessen cognitive load and intimidation. Instead of processing 8 questions at once, users are only processing the question in front of them.
Not taking narrative into account: In making the form sections reflect the user journey from high school through the application process, the aim is to have college users think about their journey as a whole and take the opportunity to open up about it. Telling your admissions story is built right into the design of the form.
Sloppy design: Details like conversational responses to certain questions and proper form inputs enable users to quickly input large amounts of data, along with experiencing a bit of delight. Ensuring that the form looked clean and functioned clearly adds legitimacy to our profile entry, and product at large.