Mentor US

A website portal for master's applicants to
simplify their application process.

Overview

This project was a part of our Interaction Design Practice curriculum as a final project. We had to select a topic that includes social collaboration. Thus, we decided to go with the problem of the master's student and their application process.

Role

UX researcher : Interviews, Observations, Secondary Review, Mapping techniques, Personas.

UX designer : Brainstorming, Storyboarding, Low-Fidelity prototypes, High-Fidelity prototypes.

Team Members

Sanmid Anavkar
Harshal Naik
Hemil Gurjar

Duration

October 2019 - December 2019

Problem Exploration & Challenge

1.1  million international students
2.4  million F-1 visas were issued

International students contributed  $42.4  billion to the U.S. economy

Have to go through a lengthy process
Need to make effective decisions

The United States has been a top priority destination for international students to pursue their education. But as people say, “The road will take you to your destination, but the journey might not always be easy.” Hundreds of thousands of students every year dream of and apply to universities in the States. Still, they find the application process many times confusing and hard to figure out certain things that they need to do during the whole procedure. Along with the problem of searching courses, they also encounter roadblocks during filling out the application form and are often confused about the deadlines and the documents that they need to submit to the university. Scenarios discussed above can affect the admission decision of the applicant. As aforementioned, roadblocks can create delays in the admission process, confuse applicants as what to do next, create an environment of stress, anxiety, and worry them.

Design process

Understanding the problem

Interviews

We interviewed three people, one who is currently applying for a master's in the USA, one who is presently a graduate student, and one who is a graduate and working in the USA. From our interviews, we got to know about the problems our participants are facing or have faced. Some of the key findings were:

Secondary research

The currently existing solutions are not reliable and often expensive. They do not reflect upon the primary needs of the applicants and provide services that are profitable to the organization. We found that the current solutions mainly contain and offer features and services such as looking up universities, deadlines, and paid to counsel.

Defining the problem

Brainstorming & Storyboarding

As a team, we had several brainstorming sessions to come up with an idea. After these sessions, we decided to focus on out top two ideas as the solution. To support the solutions, we created several storyboards that helped us to identify different use cases of the user.

Here, Sam is a student who is trying to contact a mentor for his doubts about that respective university. The senior responds to his query giving him positive feedback.

Here, Jane is a senior who is frustrated by receiving mails and messages on different platforms. She then finds out about a common portal application and respond to student queries.

Here, Jack is confused about where to upload his portfolio while filling up the application form. So he decides to ask his doubt on Master’s query solver (a collaborative social student-mentor forum). A mentor (senior) replies to his query and guides him on how Jack can submit his portfolio. Jack is happy, as he was able to complete the admission form with the help of Master’s query solver.

Helen is getting confused in writing her application essay (SOP), she decides to take the help of a senior
from the university she is applying. She uploads her essay at the Master’s query solver (a collaborative
social student-mentor forum). She gets insight from multiple mentors (seniors) who help her in curating a perfect SOP.

Problem Statement

After doing some ample amount of research, we finalized our problem statement, which is, "How can we simplify or improve the application process of these international students applying for a master's degree?"

Solution

We decided that the best solution to our problem space is by combining two of our final design solution. Thus, creating a collaborative online mentor-student social forum in the form of an application and a portal for finding the applicants respective seniors and universities comes to our optimum solution. Following are the key-points that we had in our while designing our solutions :

Design Solution

We created sketches & paper prototypes to get a clear idea of our design solutions. We focused on prototyping the main elements of our solution to make it easy for the user evaluation and testing. Getting a clear view of our primary interfaces helped us to design our solution around these elements.

Paper Prototypes

High-fidelity Prototypes

After conducting user evaluations and cognitive walkthroughs we got caught up with several user problems. Keeping these things in mind, we designed the high-fidelity prototypes on Adobe XD.

User testing & Evaluations

Cognitive Walkthrough

Usability testing is essential to improve and enhance our prototype. Developing a paper prototype allowed us to conduct a cognitive walkthrough session. We found out many important issues and came up with potential fixes. Some of the findings were:

User & Expert evaluations

Expert evaluations provide valuable insights in terms of design and usability as they have prior experience in the field and have knowledge regarding how certain things work and what things might not work as a design solution. They also provide feedback on the aesthetic part of the design, which we might not receive from potential users. We decided to evaluate our prototype with four experts as well as users. After each user and expert completed their evaluation we conducted a post-task questionnaire to check the usability of the website.

Tasks given

  • Check out information regarding a university and send a message to them.
  • View a forum question and ask a question.
  • Upload a document in the resource section.
  • Send a message to a senior replying to your forum.

Feedbacks received

  • Confusion regarding were to click on homepage
  • Could not figure out what did the search bar on the home page did
  • Confusion regarding whether the university or courses categorize the forum
  • It took some time to figure out where to click on the resources screen to access their
    submitted documents

Future work & Reflection

As a future scope, we would like to conduct more research on this domain space and try to cover all the pain points that users face. Talking to more applicants and seniors/alumni, as well as to university officials, will help us in getting better insights. There is also a considerable sector consisting of paid student counseling. Which, based on our primary and secondary review, is not worth the money that applicants spend. We want to dig deep into this domain and identify the potential solutions that we can implement in our design solutions as to which applicants do not have to spend a considerable amount of such services.

Designing is an iterative process, and no product design is perfect. We want to tweak and change some aspects of our design based on the feedback received and try to implement them in a much better and usable way, which will satisfy end-user goals. The features which we have implemented so far are a part of our whole design idea, and we would like to add and make appropriate elements and features as we identify new opportunities and issues.