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Creating a Personalized College Search Experience

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Tilt is an education technology startup that works directly with high schools and nonprofit college organizations to help prospective students understand and prepare for the true costs of college. Their overall goal is to help students find affordable pathways to a 4-year degree without the burden of debt.

For this team project, we worked directly with Tilt’s founder to expand its product and provide additional features to the current site that would be beneficial for prospective college students.

Project: Creating new features as a team to expand existing product
Client: Tilt
Duration: 4 week sprint
Tools: Figma, Zoom, Otter,  Google Forms
March 2021


Competitive Analysis

We conducted a competitive analysis of Tilt’s top competitors to see how they approached the college search process and more specifically, providing students with a curated list of schools.

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Niche includes a “Your Best Fit” feature that helps students find their best fit by entering how important certain aspects of the school are in their decision.
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Cappex offers a “Fit Meter” that assesses which schools will fit their “style” and the chances they have of being accepted.
While competitors offer other features that Tilt does not, it does not mean Tilt should also provide those features. Interviews and testing will tell us more about a user's specific wants and needs.

Usability Testing

We interviewed 3 participants, all high school students who are currently going through the college search process. We began by asking them general questions about their search process in order to get an understanding about the challenges they may be facing. They were then asked to complete tasks within Tilt and a competitor site, either Niche or Cappex. 

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There was confusion on the importance of the questions asked and why there were so many steps


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Navigation & Design:
Users expressed content with the easy to navigate and aesthetically pleasing site

Missing Features:
Users expressed they would like to see more insights into student life


What does this tell us?

Moving forward, Tilt could benefit from improving the onboarding process and perhaps even use this opportunity to replace it with questions that could then provide a list of colleges.

But how do we create those questions?

User Interviews and Surveys

A good place to begin was to interview 9 high school students and recent college grads to gain a better understanding of what exactly users look for in their college search.


We then sent out a survey to 36 participants asking them to categorize different factors, such as school size or location, from Not Important to Very Important.

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We found that students have a wide variety of different wants and needs when it comes to the colleges they choose

What does this tell us?

We quickly realized that prospective college students are such a diverse group of individuals, so we'll be designing for a variety of user types.

So then, who exactly are these users?

User Archetypes

Based on our findings from the user interviews (View Affinity Map) we discovered 4 student archetypes that college seekers typically fall under.

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The College Fanatic needs to find a school that best matches the traditional college experience so that they can have the college life they are imagining.

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The Avid Academic needs to find a learning-focused college with enlightened peers because they want to be a part of a strong, thoughtful learning environment.

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The Goal Getter needs a college that meets their specific requirements because they know exactly what they want and don’t want to bother looking at any other schools.

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The Explorer wants a new, exciting college experience because they are looking for something different from their current environment and culture.

The Problem

College seekers need a simple way to find the exact college that fits their needs and goals because no one website or resource has all the information they need.

How Might We...

Help students determine their needs and goals for college so that we can narrow down their list of choices for college, and ultimately help each student find their “perfect fit”?

The Solution

Design a unique feature within Tilt’s already comprehensive college planning website that uses surveys and activities to hone in on each student’s “perfect fit”.



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As we discovered earlier in our research, users were put off by the onboarding process so we made some slight changes. We reduced the number of questions to only 5, and also changed the type of questions asked. We used the results from the survey and what participants considered to be “Most Important” to them.

College Search Style Quiz

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An insight we gained from user interviews was that a student’s mindset could range from “I know exactly what I want” to “I have no idea what I want or even know where to start”. This College Search Style quiz allows them to find out what archetype they fall under and gives users a starting place to begin searching.

MeetU Feature

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The MeetU feature allows students to “swipe left or right” on a college that they haven’t yet viewed but meets the requirements they entered during onboarding. If they decide to “match” with one, it’s then added to their My Colleges list.

Usability Testing and Results

The onboarding process was easy and straightforward with users appreciating the limited amount of questions.


When it came to the College Search Style quiz, users responded very well with 100% of users completing it without error.


Unfortunately, the MeetU function had users unsure of it’s functionality and were not sure if they were doing it right, with 71% of users making an error.

Moving to High Fidelty

Based on our usability tests and client feedback, we arrived at a high fidelity prototype taking into account:

Preference Questions
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Our client did not want to change the onboarding process, so answering preference questions were shifted to the dashboard.

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Having both MeetU and the archetype quiz was overwhelming for users. While we believe both are fun and unique solutions to the problem, we decided to move forward with the archetype quiz because we have more usability testing and research to back up its potential.

Final Thoughts

Lessons Learned Through Research

Taking our time doing thorough user research and problem area understanding was invaluable and helped us design the best possible solution. In the 4 week design sprint, half our time was spent dedicated to research. Even then, it felt as if we could’ve done even more. Discovering that one single persona wasn’t going to cut it and making the switch into archetypes was one of our defining moments, and we could not have come to that discovery without all the research leading up to it. 

First Client Project

This was my first project where I worked directly with a client and it brought a brand new perspective into the design process. Receiving feedback and ideas from our client helped us reach a conclusion for the final prototype. We were able to begin with an actual goal in mind and it steered us in a direction we otherwise wouldn't have taken. I look forward to future projects where I can work directly with clients once again!

Next Steps

Our biggest disappointment in this project was not figuring out a way to improve the MeetU feature for seamless usability. In the future, I would love to build out the feature and test its functionality on users and get it to a point where it doesn’t have such a high error rate.

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