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I am working on an application for browsing academic programs at a large university. The primary goal is to aid in discovery of majors/degrees that a student would otherwise not know existed, as well as helping new students understand the scope of topics they could potentially get a degree in. I am of the opinion that the best high-level experience to support these goals would be a filter-able browse tool so students could :

  • scroll through all programs to see what our university offers
  • limit the list by criteria that are important to them (degree type, topic, etc.)

The problem I am running into is figuring out what level to present. There are two in the running:

  1. Major: The pros are there are only 150 of these, so the list would be more manageable for browsing. The cons are that this would create an additional layer before the student gets to the information about the degree (requirements, admission, etc.)
  2. Degree: The pros are that this is where the majority of the information lives, so getting students to this information is important. Cons there are around 450 of these, so browsing would be a nightmare (or, at least I think, which gets me to my question).

Does anyone have any research related to the upper limit of items users will browse, or any experience with a similar problem? As this is for a major life decision, my experience is that students tend to dig deeper than they would for a small purchase or web search, however, it still feels like getting into the 400+ range is probably pushing it.

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    I'm not sure people 'browse' degrees in the first place. Maybe some research should be done before hand. From my past experience, picking a degree often comes with 'interest surveys' and the like. Not sure if they are valid at all, only that's what I've seen in the past. – DA01 Aug 11 '15 at 23:18
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    As for what an upper limit would be, I think it's entirely dependent on the user and how intent they are in finding what they are looking for. – DA01 Aug 11 '15 at 23:18
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    In our research, we have found that students do browse. The trouble is that in the current environment, they are left to browse the Catalog for some information, then go out and search for additional information on department websites, and then iterate on that process until they find a program that seems reasonable for them. We have witnessed some pretty intense and extensive research efforts and artifacts from students we've talked to. – Rath_Er Aug 11 '15 at 23:34
  • To me, that sounds like you have an audience that is very intent on finding what they want, which I think allows you to err on the side of 'more' than 'less'. So I think that's beneficial. I wonder if you could borrow heavily from Amazon? Their filtering system works well, and this might be a place where "users also viewed..." to surface related degrees and programs. – DA01 Aug 11 '15 at 23:37
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    The use case you describe is definitely one that we expect, which is why our browse page will have facet and keyword filters to enable users who know what they want to find their preferred option. However, we would be doing many of our students an immense disservice if we only considered the needs of those who already know what they wanted to do. There are many many incoming freshmen and high school students who have no idea what they want to study, or what their options are. For them, we need our application to present all options in a way that enables self-directed discovery. – Rath_Er Sep 15 '15 at 18:21
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What about if you think of it from a Google search perspective?

A search typically brings a resultset of millions, in pages of 30 or so...but one typically never goes past page 3 before trying to refine the search. Google has certain key techniques to refine the search, which quickly become very easy to use.

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This is a very difficult task no doubt and I would agree most schools don't do a great job of presenting the wealth of options a student has to choose from.

Here's my thought degrees vs majors doesn't really matter as much. You can do either one. What would help prospective students may involve creating similar categories to lump similar things together. I will refer to these prospective categories as buckets.

Here's what I would do , get some data for incoming students to see what makes them choose their major (expected income, work-life balance, the industry it will place them in, stress). Then I would look for some data from students who switched their major and see if I can identify themes or buckets.

Next I would have different views that groups these majors or degrees based on these themes. These may include expected salary, the percentage employed, stress level of major, friendliest majors to be able to work from home, which industry are you trying to work in. If you can give them more buckets to browse over and if they identify with that bucket then they will look at the majors there as opposed to having to read through 150 or 400 degrees.

I still would have a view showing all the different degrees or majors I would just have different views with these buckets or categories to help them triage a smaller subset. Determining the buckets is hard. But the way I envision it is a person is coming there because their parent was a roughneck who worked in the oil industry and they want to enter that industry. They then see browse majors by career fields or industry types. They then see the energy and initially, they were hesitant about petroleum engineering or Chemical engineering due to the stress levels of those majors but they discover your mechanical engineering program that also lands students in that industry.

  • Thanks for the suggestion Bob! We have started down the path of creating more meaningful connections between majors (career outcomes, what students transfer to/from, etc.), unfortunately at this point, those views will need to come down the line since they require some major data collection, if not wholesale creation. Unfortunately the only real "relatedness" that we have the data to support is organizational (college, department), and some fairly rough curricular classifications. – Rath_Er Aug 12 '15 at 15:04
  • Awesome , yeah it's no easy task. I would try and find some other data for the buckets or look at other schools for ideas – Frank Visaggio Aug 12 '15 at 17:51

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