The college application process is a long and difficult process involving hard deadlines. Missing these deadlines often means that a student will miss out on his/her chance of matriculation. Recent studies suggest that relatively small changes to a complicated process can have a significant impact on postsecondary outcomes.
The Department of Education recognizes this and has decided to create a website that will make the entire process simpler  for students and their families, covering everything from choosing a college, to finding, and applying for financial aid.
The Challenge
To create a web platform that takes the currently fragmented state of the college application process and simplify it for students and their families. The solution needs to be able to showcase a wealth of important information while remaining intuitive and easy to navigate for users. 
Phase One: Research
Interviews were conducted with seven recent college freshmen regarding their college application process as well as their financial aid process to understand how they applied to each, what pain points they encountered, and what tools they used to assist them. The following are some key takeaways from the interviews:

1. No one was clear where to look for scholarships, one student told me "I wasn't sure which sites were trustworthy. I signed up for a few, but they mostly just sent me spam which I still get today."

2. The FAFSA was confusing. Students who had someone else fill out the form or helped them fill out the form rated the experience much higher than those who tried to tackle it alone.

3. Guidance counselors were of key importance in helping students search and apply for schools.

4. All participants used the CommonApp to apply for schools, indicating there needed to be some sort of integration with it that would allow students to pull their application over.
Competitive Analysis 
A competitive analysis was conducted to understand the current market space and understand what core features were needed for an MVP as well as to locate any gaps that could be taken advantage of.
Phase Two: Define
Persona Development & Storyboarding
Using the feedback gathered from the research phase I synthesized the information into a persona that I would use to as a basis to design for. Then I created a storyboard using the persona to understand a possible user case.
Product Roadmap
I created a product roadmap to highlight the features that I believed to be most important so that I would know what features to include in the first roll out of the product.
UX Strategy Blueprint
I then created a UX strategy blueprint to help me visualize how I could approach the design for Cimplify by outlining the challenges, success metrics, design criteria and more. 
Phase Three: Design
After the initial research I quickly mocked up some wireframes to begin visualizing and understanding the structure of Cimplify.
UI Design
Prototyping and Testing
The next step for me was to create a clickable prototype using inVision. Participants were given the task of searching for colleges to apply to, saving them to their list, and then applying to the saved colleges. 

Follow the link below to click through the prototype.
From the testing I was able to determine where the successes were and where users ran into difficulties and what needed to be improved. The following affinity diagram visualizes the results.
This project was exciting for me to work on because I remember when I was applying for colleges, the process was a nightmare. I remember often feeling lost and flustered and not understanding when certain deadlines were and overall just never feeling like I was fully prepared. 

Working on this project felt rewarding for me because I felt like I was tackling an important problem and I was coming up with an unique solution for it.

Next steps for this would involve creating more key frames and conducting more user testing and iterating as needed.
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