A Usability Test on AltSchool’s Application Process

AltSchool is a network of schools with an interdisciplinary team aimed at offering experimental learning for children grades pre-k through 8th.

AltSchool’s application process is straightforward, but a quick usability test identified several optimizations that can make things even better.

Objective

Identify any pain points, areas of confusions, or possible improvements to AltSchool’s application process.

Current AltSchool form UI at start of application

Test Parameters

What: AltSchool’s admissions application

Where: Tests were all conducted remotely via Skype screen-share

Who: Parents with a child between the ages of 0–13

Alexa.com showed that AltSchool’s most common visitor is likely a working mother with a graduate degree. However, since AltSchool offers need-based tuition assistance, I ultimately chose not to screen participants by education level, income, or current occupation.

Test Task

  1. I asked the parents to complete the AltSchool application form as if they were applying for their child’s admission.

(Participants stopped prior to submitting the application. Participant’s with children younger than 3 years completed the application as if their child were applying to Pre-K.)

Processing

I recorded my notes in a google doc, broken up by each section of the application. I then categorized the issues based on my estimation of:

  1. Ease of implementing a corrective solution
  2. Potential time saved for users / Potential benefit
  3. Users’ degree of frustration with a particular issue
  4. Ability to avoid incorrect information entry
  5. Likely frequency of occurrence

Findings

While the test did not reveal anything which completely prevented participants from completing the application, there were several areas identified that could improve the User Experience.

Using the aforementioned criteria, I grouped my recommendations into High, Medium, and Low priority issues.

Below, I detail findings and recommendations for the high and medium issues. The low priority issues were quickly corrected by the user and are not a major concern.

High Priority Issues (4)

Some People Are Unfamiliar with the Local School System’s Key Dates and Terms

I’m not sure what month exactly they are referring to when they are asking if I would like to apply for a “Midyear” start.
I wish they stated somewhere what the exact cut-off dates are for children’s ages.
What’s TK?
Areas of potential confusion are highlighted

Applicants had trouble completing portions of the “Share information about your child” section that related to rules/terms specific to the local school system.

The reasons for being unfamiliar with the local school system applicable to the test participants included 1) being from out of state and 2) applying for a child in pre-k. Additional scenarios could include applicants who:

  • Just moved into a new city
  • Are from nearby states and within commuting distance
  • Currently have a child in a school system with a non-traditional calendar

Recommendation: Either 1) add tooltips throughout the page or 2) add a link at the top of each application section that provides an aggregate view of the relevant information that might be confusing or require a user to lookup within that section.

Design Suggestion: Below is one possible design suggestion illustrating the addition of tooltips.

Suggested UI Design to incorporate tooltips

Users are Unable to Easily Review or Share their Applications

I really wish I could look at everything on one page and review it with my spouse

At the end of the application, all of the users expressed a desire to review their answers in one view before submitting. Users also wanted to share this application with a spouse or other trusted individual.

Current UI when an application is ready for submission — No current method for reviewing the entire application in one view.

Recommendation: First, work on adding the ability to allow users to review their application within a single view. If time and resources permit, implement the ability for users to send others an authorized link to be a reviewer for the application.

Design Suggestions:

  1. Replace the current submit button/area with a review button and add an “Invite a Reviewer” link under resources.
  2. Allow user’s to review and submit their application in a single view, using a similar style modal as the current application sections.
  3. Allow user’s to easily invite a reviewer to help edit their application.
Suggested UI Design incorporating the ability to review your application before submission and a link to “Invite a Reviewer”.

After a user clicks Review, they can they see a full view of their application in the same style modal as the existing application sections checklist, with the option to submit the application at the bottom.

Suggested Wireframe for if the user had clicked “Review”

If the user had clicked “Invite a Reviewer”, below is a suggestion for the potential UI of the following screen.

Suggested UI Design for if the user had clicked “Invite a Reviewer”

Teacher Evaluation Form Is Always Incorrectly Completed

The first page of the teacher evaluation form has a table for teachers to complete. However, all test participants stated that they believed that they should complete this table.

I would complete the first page of this document, and then hand the rest to the teacher.

Recommendation: In order to clear up confusion, AltSchool should identify the form fields and instructions targeted at the teachers and move them to the next page in the application. Additionally, they should move the teacher instructions above the first form fields intended for the teacher.

Users Could Not See Their Response Word Count Within the Application

I would probably type my responses up here. Then move them to a word editor/counter. Modify each answer so it’s exactly 100 words. Then paste back into the application.
Current UI

In order to reduce friction in the application process, users should not have to leave the application process to count the number of words in their response.

Recommendation: Include a word counter in the bottom right corner of each text response box.

Design Suggestion: Add a word counter in the bottom right hand corner of the long responses text boxes.

Medium Priority Issues (2)

No One Noticed the Teacher Evaluation Form

The link to the teacher evaluation form is small and located on the bottom right corner of the main page. All of the test participants did not notice the teacher evaluation form nor did they realize it was required as part of their application.

I hypothesize the link to this form is intentionally placed here for a combination of two reasons:

  1. To reduce friction in the applicant process.
  2. It’s possible AltSchool may accept a very low percentage of applicants. Therefore, they only notify the individuals when they move on to the next round to complete this form, saving several hundred non-qualified parents and teachers a bunch of time.

Recommendation: Include a reminder message in the confirmation page/email or move the link to a new location on this page: below the Application Checklist, noting that the form may be submitted after the remaining application is submitted.

Additional Legal Guardian Checkbox is Never Filled Prior to App Submission

Users are asked to submit legal guardian information and then verify that the information is accurate and complete. Regardless of how many user guardians the individual adds, the checkbox for the legal guardian section is never filled in prior to app submission.

It’s annoying how I added all the legal guardians for my child, but that checkmark is still unhighlighted.
Current UI: Regardless of how many additional legal guardians you add, the checkbox at the bottom of the page is never filled in prior to application submission.

This format also cause some confusion as to whether the user is submitting “the application” or just “submitting an acknowledgement towards the number of legal guardians.”

Recommendation: Add a new dropdown menu in the “Share information about your child” section asking “How many legal guardians does [child’s name] have?”

The aforementioned legal guardians checkbox can then be marked completed when the user has entered the correct amount of legal guardians.

Conclusion

By implementing these changes, AltSchool can enhance its already smooth application process. An improved UX in the application will reflect well upon AltSchool’s ability to leverage technology in the classroom and enforce its brand as an innovative educational institution.


*I don’t work for or represent AltSchool. I’m just a guy in Designlab’s UX Academy, working on UX projects under the awesome mentorship of Francine Lee (Asana), Derek Bender (Uber), and Charlene Foote (Getaround). I think AltSchool is a super cool company; I thought it would be fun to explore how I would potentially improve some things.