Brooke Jackson
Experience Designer

Onboarding Apps

Reimagining how students interact with and transition to the university

Problem: The student experience with online applications is disjointed.

Higher education is not innovating as quickly as other industries. Universities have multiple, outdated systems and applications that fail to speak to one another, often as the result of a bureaucratic organization. 

These systems create a clunky and confusing experience for students, who have to log in to multiple portals with little direction. 

Solution: Design a seamless experience that guides students in their transition to the university.

My job as the UI/UX designer was to reimagine the way students experience our university's online applications. I was responsible for leading research, brand and style creation, and experience design of the two applications comprising our minimally viable product.

Research and Analysis

Interviews and Initial Research

Stakeholder Interviews

To get the best understanding of the processes and systems that make up the student onboarding experience, we met with several student services employees to understand current processes and identify requirements.

Contextual Inquiries and Student Interviews

I had the opportunity to conduct a contextual inquiry with a call center employee taking admissions calls. The CI helped me understand the problems students were experiencing, why they were experiencing them, and what information they were being given to fix their problems.

We conducted several individual interviews with students to understand:

  • How they use and perceive online applications
  • What resources they need
  • Opportunities for improvement in their onboarding experience

Onboarding Apps

Affinity Diagram

To make sense of our interviews and contextual inquiries, we created an affinity diagram to find patterns in data points.

This process helped us identify opportunities to address pain points in the student onboarding experience.

Onboarding Apps


Based on the interviews, we created two very broad personas that we needed to design for: freshman and transfer students.

  • Both had similar goals, but differing priorities
  • Freshmen needed a one-stop shop for taking care of logistical things like housing
  • Transfers were more experienced with the processes, but still needed help adjusting


For our minimally viable product, we decided to focus on two opportunities to improve university applicants' experiences:

  1. Provide a way for students to see the status of their application and submitted materials
  2. Improve and refine the ID activation process 

Design Process
Onboarding Apps

Sketches and Wireframes

I used sketching to iterate through ideas quickly and nail down an initial user flow. I then used the sketches to create annotated wireframes to hand off to our developers.

New experience: wireframes and user flow for the ID activation process
New experience: wireframes and user flow for the ID activation process
Onboarding Apps

Visual Design


We wanted our product to have its own fresh, modern brand that wouldn't overtake the brands of the multiple campuses we served. I designed a logo and developed a simple style guide to achieve this.

Design System: Material Design

We used Google's Material Design for its already-built design system in Sketch and ease-of-use for our front-end developers that were using Material-UI React components. 

Final Design Highlights
Onboarding Apps

Guided Experience

Students are always directed on where to go and what to do next. Our two applications work together to make sure students understand where they are in their onboarding process.

Onboarding Apps

Streamlined ID Activation

Individualized links sent in a welcome email serve as a form of authentication, eliminating unnecessary steps in the activation process such as temporary PINs and social security numbers.

Onboarding Apps

Application Tracker

Students can view their checklist to submit the correct materials. Their status changes once their application moves into review and again once the university has made a decision.


Our minimally viable product has been presented to university executives and is in the process of approval to be launched to a pilot group of students in Fall 2019. Our team is working to conduct validation testing and continuing to make design and development improvements to ensure the best possible student experience.