UCLA Admission

Helping future applicants navigate the college experience and admission process

My Role

User research
Information architecture
UX & content strategy


Art director
Visual designers


Google Analytics
Google Search Console


The Office of Admission manages recruitment and admission decisions of 100,000+ applicants each year. High university rankings and their marketing efforts to prospective students helps ensure a more competitive group of students who apply and a high yield who enroll.


The admission website is a major touchpoint in recruitment marketing. However, the current site did not reflect the quality of a top-tier university. The current site presented significant design, content, and usability issues. It also contained very little information about the student experience or campus programs.

In effect, it wasn’t doing much to promote the university. The last major update occurred 10 years prior. While the admission team updated it to ensure accuracy, but no one managed the content experience overall.

Intake & Audit

Stakeholder Research

We interviewed the admission team to learn more about their business needs. We asked questions like:

  • What are their goals and challenges for the next 1-3 years?
  • How has recruitment marketing changed over the past few years?
  • How can your website better assist with recruitment and retention?
  • What type of students are you targeting?
  • How do you segment your audience?
  • What are the unique needs and challenges of each?
  • How can we exceed their expectations?


The admission team provided us with many challenges. I prioritized a few to bring focus to my work:

  • Develop more approachable content: People in general struggle to make sense of college admission process. Make the requirements easy to understand.
  • Increase stickiness and engagement: Give people compelling reasons to consume our content.
  • Communicate the value of UCLA: Convince top-tier students of our quality, value, and reputation. Work to balance the perception of public vs. private schools.
  • Show off the student experience: Authentically convey aspects of campus life including academic programs, extracurriculars, student diversity, and the residential experience.

Usability Assessment

Lots of websites at UCLA have usability issues. You can spot them immediately with a quick scan. It's worthwhile to document so there's no misconceptions what needs to be fixed.

I gathered our team into a room to spend 10 minutes browsing the site and note the most notorious issues. An informal group audit: it's a good way to get everyone on the same page in saying, "Geez... we need to fix this." The most glaring problems we found:

  • Content is difficult to navigate.
  • Visual hierarchy is mostly absent.
  • Copy is dense and technical. You need a law degree to understand some of it.
  • Navigation patterns are inconsistent across pages.
  • No breadcrumbs for wayfinding.
  • Campus culture and student experience is almost nonexistent.

Content Inventory

Meanwhile, I dove into a more labor intensive audit: the dreaded content inventory. I worked with our data team to generate a current sitemap and apply a color heatmap to the top hundred pages for quick visual analysis.

Then we pulled page all data into a spreadsheet where I could prioritize, reference stats, and takes notes for analysis. The inventory helped me answer these questions:

  • What content is currently lives on the site?
  • How is it organized?
  • How does it perform against total site traffic?
  • Which pages underperform?
  • What's redundant?
  • Where can we consolidate?

Content inventories suck. But by doing the work, and combining with insights from user research, the benefit was clear: We reduced total page count from 480 to 100 pages. Plus, we had a clear rational for every decision. So I could answers questions and make informed revisions with quick approvals.


Analytics & Search

I dug further into analytics to find the most common pageviews, entrances, and search queries. My ultimate goal was to identify:

  • User needs: Using data to track the top tasks and need. This helped me prioritize topics in my deliverables.
  • Browsing behavior: Using data to track behavior. Most users entered via search, for a specific topic, and then exit 1-2 pages late. We needed to collect keywords for priority topics, then share this data with writers for better SEO.

Secondary Research

I felt our internal data didn't have all the answers I needed about user tasks and goals. So I reviewed other sources—college search engines, student forums, attitudinal surveys, and industry white papers—to round out my list. These sources also highlighted common metrics used to evaluate and compare universities.

User Interviews

As an in-house team, with prior experience on admission projects, we had a general persona of our target audience. I believed we could expand on this knowledge and do more to understand the unique needs and pain points of key segments. I interviewed eight students, recently admitted to UCLA, and used their experience as the basis for future user stories and personas.

Competitor Research

Students can turn to many sources for information about UCLA. I visualized the competitor offerings so our team and client understood where the admission website fit in this landscape. It helped us evaluate:

  • How competitors offer unique value at different phases of the college search and admission process
  • How we might compete with or complement these offerings, or provide unique value of our own

In the end, I recommended several steps I thought were achievable for us:

  • Position ourselves as the authority in transactional topics
  • Demonstrate value through insider knowledge found in photography, statistics, video content, or unique campus programs
  • Communicate institutional and student values, ones that set us apart from other universities


Task Analysis

Using prior research, I created a list of top user needs and tasks. Creating this inventory helped me make informed decisions about information architecture and content.


Using interviews and other data sources, I settled on three segments to define the needs of key demographics:

  • Considering private universities: Weighing the general experience and resources against private universities
  • First-generation applicants: First in their family to attend college, likely less generational knowledge of college or the application process
  • Transfers applicants: Students who attend community college, prior to university, to save money or better prepare for their college experience

User Insights

I created user stories because I find them more helpful to quickly communicate pain points or user needs. They work well to quickly socialize the current experience in presentations or in communication with teams. Below are a few I created for my research deliverables:

UX Principles

I wanted to create a vision for the project and foster early alignment between my experience vision, our client, and the creative team. The final synthesis of my research was the development of principles:

  • Speak directly to users, not at them. Focus on what they will gain, not what the university has accomplished or offers.
  • Explain the value and benefit of being a UCLA student in concrete terms. College is a huge financial investment and time commitment.
  • Meaningfully differentiate UCLA from other schools by being transparent in our values. Students want to know how they will align with our students and campus.
  • We don't own the story of UCLA and that's okay. Students will seek out perspectives from multiple sources.
  • Incorporate the student voice. Make them part of the story because this is about them.

Information Architecture


Using insights from analytics and task analysis, I recommend a new site structure. I invited writers and marketing to provide feedback. Together, we cut underperforming and obsolete content and consolidated loose details into a well-defined structure that:

  • Reduced the total number of pages from 480 to 100
  • Matched main topics to priority needs and mental models
  • Developed an intuitive site hierarchy and flow of content
  • Implemented user-centered, search-optimized page titles and links

The admission team signed off on the majority of our recommendations. When questions arose about consolidations or cuts, I always felt confident in providing a rationale supported by data, research, or general usability standards.

Content Briefs

To translate prior research to our writers, I created content briefs for all landing and high-traffic pages. I wanted to ensure relevant, valuable, and discoverable content for our users. I partnered with a colleague who had deep institutional knowledge to contribute ideas and fill in details I missed.

Briefs included relevant user needs, search terms, messaging and stats, source content, page titles for SEO, and required links for navigation:


I wrapped up my UX work by sketching wireframes for 24 landing and overview pages. I focused on content flow, priority, and layout, using research distilled in content briefs to structure each page.

I also noted when content should be more experiential (images, graphics, etc.) or focus on practical information (text, tables, etc.). I shared sketches with creatives to get feedback and negotiate designs adjustments on the fly. Then I shared copies with writers to review content design prior to copywriting for high-fidelity layouts.


In the end, I think we succeeded in achieving the following:

  • Clearer flow and hierarchy of content across the site
  • Content aligned to the needs of users
  • More visually optimized pages with scannable copy
  • Incorporation of the student voice and perspective
  • Positive stakeholder relationship and sign-off on a majority of IA recommendations

Next Project

UCLA Experience