Mentor Labs

An education technology startup focused on solving information inequity to help guide people in making better life decisions, starting with college admissions.
Is there a need for personalized opportunity recommendations for high school students?

In the summer of 2021, I, along with four other interns, were hired as UX designers at Mentor Labs to design an experience for high school students applying to college to input their background, goals, and interests and get personalized recommendations from Mentor Lab’s scholarship and summer program database. I eventually stayed on for another year helping Mentor Labs grow into its final product in April of 2022.

Role: UX Designer, Team Lead, Head Product Designer
Tenure: July 2021 to April 2022
People: Robert Wachen, Amanda Thomsen, Alex Liu, Jasmine Gao, Andrew Tang

Helping high school students connect with the right scholarships and opportunities

The first two versions of Mentor Labs

User research revealed that a majority of high school students felt lost when applying to college, saying there’s no existing resource that centralizes opportunities and information. In order to solve this problem, Mentor Labs compiled a database of over 2000 scholarships & summer programs, and developed an algorithm that lets students input their background, college goals and extracurricular interests and receive personalized recommendations from the database.

Over the course of 3 months, I helped to create a design system for Mentor Labs initial release of recommending personalized scholarships and summer programs to students. I mainly focused on the recommendation experience, focusing on communicating the value of recommendations and simplicity in the interface to help make options easy to digest.

After my internship, I was offered to stay on the team as a UX/UI team lead and was tasked with leading the design direction for a new recommendation experience feature. I managed four other designers in creating this experience and collaborated with other team leads in product brainstorming. The second version of Mentor Lab’s web app was a task recommender that recommended actionable steps for high school students based on their goals and interests, and allowed them to keep track of all their action items on a central timeline.

However, multiple testing rounds showed that while students loved the idea of a centralized timeline to keep track of things they should be doing, this feature was very confusing to them because each aspect of applying to college (which we called umbrellas) was so different and warranted their own features. It was difficult to generalize tasks for every topic.

By the end of December, the design team developed and tested a scaled down version of the umbrellas but the feature ultimately never got launched due to development complexity.

Revisiting the goal: helping students personalize their college admissions

After the V2 failure, our CEO and I sat down to reconsider Mentor Lab's goals. In a whiteboard session, we considered whether there was still a need for centralized opportunities. I conducted a contextual inquiry by reaching out to high school students to understand their college admission struggles. We held office hours for high school students to talk about their applications and extracurriculars, and this ended up being extremely successful because high school students were looking for credible testimony from students who had been in their shoes before.

Because so much of the office hours were focused on discussing extracurriculars, it confirmed a couple of hunches. We realized that as universities were pivoting to more test-optional policies, extracurriculars became more important on students' applications. The pandemic also made online opportunity search more critical. Traditional school prep resources didn't have the infrastructure for extracurriculars, so we realized we had an opportunity to help students manage their extracurriculars online.

Designing an extracurriculars tracker

Much of the product required an understanding of how students are approaching extracurriculars. I approached the design from a user journey perspective, breaking down the how's and why's. These helped to inform a user flow and mental model to make prototypes for. Our design became an extracurricular guide that allowed students to select an extracurricular and be able to progress through different levels of commitment, helping them understand how much is necessary for their college goals.

I also wanted to utilize our successful social media platform formats and the IG story format to appeal to Gen-Z, so I designed topic guides visually similar to how Instagram displays a story, which allowed for more easy consumption.

Acquisition

The guides were popular within our discord group. Mission: Mentor launched this feature out to the public in May of 2022 and is currently being used by students all over the world.

Mentor Labs was acquired in August of 2022! For me, part of the impact that Mission: Mentor brought to kids wasn’t just from the product but the people working on it. Our team had made an impression just by connecting with high school students and offering our perspective. In turn, this helped us to really understand what high school students are actually looking for when applying to college and set us up to design and create a successful product.