1.5 Trillion

total US student loan debt

Student Debt + Social Media

A case study that explores the decision making process for soon to be college students.

Where does it start?

To better understand the underlying cause, eight in-depth interviews were conducted with college students of varying ages to determine areas of exploration. 

"I do not understand how to handle my own finances."

What factors into the decision?

The key moments that determine how much debt a student will incur are selecting a school and career path. These decisions are made by high school students who do not fully understand their implications. With the help of existing survey data, some insights were revealed on how students normally select schools to attend. Data from: Deciding to go College


Students lack financial understanding and consistent information when selecting colleges. 

How do students understand other content?

There is no shortage of websites that explain finances or review schools, but the problem still exists. So instead of looking at these existing places as reference, the places that students understand other types of content was examined.

Pencils before pixels

Several iterations of designs were worked through quickly on paper to narrow ideas and lay the foundation for the development of high fidelity concepts.

Conveying only necessary information

When it comes to having a manageable amount of student debt, few things matter more than return on investment. That was used as an overall rating for each school. After several quick prototypes and interviews the first direction was selected for its reduced amount of information. If prospective students only have the information to make a good financial decision, then how could they choose wrong?

Testing Highlights

A combination of online surveys and in-person tests were used to improve several iterations of the design. The original amount of information provided was enough to convey the financial value of the school, but it was not enough to persuade the user to feel confident about selecting the school. A balance point had to be reached on providing enough information, but not so much that it would take the focus off of return on investment.

How would you rate the value of this school?

What other information would you like to see?

The information users need to feel confident

Including information wasn’t just about conveying financial value with ROI, other social factors had to be accounted for a holistic feeling of confidence.

Specific Information from the community

This information was great to make a foundation for a decision, but in many cases users wanted the ability to ask a community of past students specific questions.

Teaching finance in a familiar way

Financial blogs and sites are difficult to get through, users needed a fast way to understand their basic finances.

Rating schools like an online purchase

If people can make a fast, educated decision on a product to buy on amazon, they should be able to do the same thing with a college.

The Proto

The last version of the prototype was shown to users to develop additional feedback for future iterations.

Post Interviews

A series of follow-up interviews were conducted with users from throughout the study. Their thoughts on the design were positive, but had concerns about their ability to forecast and plan how to pay back student debt.

Future Exploration

The ability for users to estimate loan payments and visualize a payback plan is essential to establish an understanding of the implications of choosing a college. The future of this project will focus on how to best display this information.

Other work