Mission: Mentor

An education technology startup focused on solving information inequity to help guide people in making better life decisions, starting with college admissions
Background & Past Versions
Is there a need for personalized opportunity recommendations for high school students?
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, Mission: Mentor 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.
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In the summer of 2021, I, along with four other interns, were hired as UX designers at Mission: Mentor to design an experience for high school students applying to college to input their background, goals, and interests and get personalized recommendations from Mission: Mentor’s scholarship and summer program database.
My Role
Version 1 (V1) - July 2021 to August 2021
As a primary UX design intern, I was tasked with designing the recommendation experience, which was a Tinder-style scholarship and summer program recommender. Students get matched with opportunities based on information they input about themselves, such as background, ethnicity, grades, and test scores. I designed the recommendation cards seen in the screenshot below. I also collaborated on designing the database search interface, onboarding, and landing pages.
Version 2 (V2) - August 2021 to January 2022
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 Mission: Mentor’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.
Robert Wachen, Amanda Thomsen, Alex Liu, Jasmine Gao, Andrew Tang
July 2021 - January 2022 (V1 and V2)
January 2022 - March 2022 (V3)
Version 3 (V3) Exploration
Our Core Users
At this point in time, Mission: Mentor was running a discord for high school students who were looking for college advice, help, and resources. Most of these students were generally high achieving, first generation students looking to go to good four-year American universities. They were students who either used the first version of Mission: Mentor or had heard about our product before, meaning that most of them had followed Mission: Mentor since the beginning. Our team consistently kept in touch with them and treated them as our core users.
Here’s where we get to V3, the live product. We wanted to operate more as a lean company so we scaled down to where I became the only designer, working mainly with our CEO in making product decisions and starting again from scratch.
After the V2 failure, our CEO and I sat down to reconsider MM’s goals. In a whiteboard session, we considered four major questions:
  • Is there still a need for centralized opportunities?
  • Do students want optimized advice on their extracurriculars?
  • What are students currently doing to organize college applications?
  • In a broad sense, what should Mission: Mentor be offering to students?
For each of these questions, the two of us brainstormed a product test or research method that we could conduct in order to answer each of them.
Is there still a need for centralized opportunities?
We set up a product waitlist to confirm that there was user need for a centralized opportunity database.
Do students want optimized advice on their extracurriculars?
We held office hours for high school students to talk about their college applications and extracurriculars, where students would talk to the CEO for advice and I would take notes.
What are students currently doing to organize college applications?
We had our HS team members interview their peers to understand current methods of organizing college admissions, keeping in mind that some student responses did not fit our core user group.
What should Mission: Mentor be offering to students?
We had our HS team members interview their peers to understand current methods of organizing college admissions, keeping in mind that some student responses did not fit our core user group.
Exploration Findings
While most of our tests went well, it was the office hours that were extremely successful and insightful because students benefited extremely from hearing from credible college students that they were in a comfortable position in terms of college apps from other people who had been in similar situations before. They also benefited from hearing about how to improve what they already have to optimize their applications.

Because so much of the office hours were focused on discussing extracurriculars, we had a few hunches and decided to do more research. 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.

Our waitlist had also gathered thousands of users, which meant to us that there was still a need for free, centralized opportunities.
Design Opportunities
From these findings, I compiled a couple design opportunities and ideas to explore:
  • tasks on subject topics, written by experts in the field; this was a way for us, as students, to provide our perspective to high schoolers on how to tackle certain subjects
  • a social feature that allows students to see what other similar students are doing so that they can compare their application profiles with other like minded students
  • Upkeep on our V1 database
In working with our curriculum lead and CEO, we agreed on these design decisions and worked together to determine which subject tasks to write first based on our core users’ interests.
User Journey
Before designing on the opportunities, I laid out a user journey to understand how and why someone would pursue tasks. I used the scenario of competitive math because it was a topic that was new to me in high school and I eventually made it one of my extracurriculars. I broke it down into two levels: discovery and accountability. Discovery explored how a high school student would discover a new topic/interest, and accountability explored how they would manage them.
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After brainstorming these journeys, I decided to treat them as hypotheticals because I believed they would change as I started to design my ideas. Based on the design opportunities our team set to produce, I first decided to tackle the "tasks on subject topics".
Task List User Flow
Although we were mainly a web product, I decided to design mobile first because we had learned that students tended to organize college app todo items on their phone. In user flow ideation, I often imagined action items for students to complete after selecting a subject or topic, so I opted to design the interface as a task-list style product that was modular. So, the final flow was for students to add a subject or topic and manage and organize tasks related to them. These tasks would be written by people who were experts in the topic to provide that expert advice.
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Usability Testing
After designing these wireframes, I tested them with 10 of our core users, measuring success on two things:
  • How well they could add a subject/topic and complete tasks related to them
  • Whether or not this is something that our users would use now if developed
While 8 out of the 10 participants could successfully complete a task, all of them said that they would like to use this. However, during my conversations with participants, I realized that these tasks were given to students without any real explanation as to why they should be even doing them in the first place. It seemed as if I needed to write actual guides explaining the reasons for completing these tasks.
In my next iterations, I focused on a design that allowed students to first read about topics and why they should pursue them, then offer action steps to complete.
Finalizing the Design
For advice guide content, I 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.
Because I designed the product to have guides, I had to redesign how the task list looked like to visually separate guides from tasks. I categorized guides under a "Learn" section while action items were placed under "Tasks".
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Social Feature
In my user journey, I explored the idea of students being able to compare their progress and tasks with other students of similar interests. To tackle student profile comparisons, I designed a leveling system in which completing guides and action items added experience points to a student’s profile, indicating subject mastery and progress. This way, users can see other users’ levels in comparison to gauge subject progress and readiness for college applications. The team and I thought this was a successful idea because it allowed students to see other people’s levels in a subject and where they think they should be headed toward.
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Sadly, I had to step back from Mission: Mentor before we were able to test this idea and add it to our guide and task list design.
Guides & Task List Launch
Even though the social feature wasn't finished, the guides and task list feature was 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.
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Desktop Versions
Mission: Mentor was recently 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.
Being the only designer at Mission: Mentor, I had to make a lot of independent design decisions with very little prior real world or industry experience. I was given ownership of a design project without knowing if I was making the right design decisions. Retrospectively, there are a lot of things I could do better in terms of the product design, but I'm glad that I was able to grow as a designer and product thinker through this experience.