MySchools - Match Results & Waitlists

Far From Finished

The Challenge

After the initial release, there was still much to add. In the past, families received offers by mail. With the rest of the experience now online, this would no longer suffice.

Finding and applying to schools is only half of the product. After matches were made behind the scenes, MySchools needed to inform families of their offers, and allow them to take the next steps toward enrollment — which often isn’t a straightfoward process.

Like the rest of the process, we needed to bring all the old steps online, including viewing your results and joining waitlists.
The Goal

Timing was critical: while our dev team was occupied with the complex matching algorithm, I needed to orchestrate the UX design of numerous features we’d build as soon as the developers were free.

In addition to the public-facing product, the MySchools scope involved new back-end functionality for every school’s guidance counselors and principal, as well as city administrators. The admin tool executes the Gale-Shapley matching algorithm to make offers to each student’s most-preferred school that also wants them. (Schools have different criteria — many set by equity and diversity policies — that define the students they “want”.)

This NYC Schools video explains how the Gale–Shapley deferred acceptance algorithm is used to place students in schools — a variation of a “stable matching problem”.

Though I was closely involved in requirements gathering for the algorithm and back-end, my primary focus was the front-end. In order to launch the match results on the publicized release date (much anticipated by families), I and my team needed to finalize designs for these features without skipping a beat.

The Approach

I mapped out the dozens of possible results combinations and the various choices open to users in each case. Then I directed the UX design of the features we’d need to support these scenarios.

I developed flowcharts to depict the large number states and possible user actions. These diagrams served as a reference in planning meetings with the city as we made important decisions about what should happen in each scenario — as well as what was in scope and feasible.

Flowcharts I created to plan for the many possible scenarios and user actions in the results and waitlists functionality.

Within their application, families are able to see their child’s school placement and learn about next steps.

The simplest case is one offer, as wireframed here.
In some cases, a student can have many results — possibly consisting of multiple offers as well as non-offers.
Users have the option to turn down their offer if they decide to leave the NYC school system.

In addition to displaying results, some admissions processes offer waitlists. I tasked my UX teammate to tackle this feature and closely oversaw the work.

Wireframes depict how users find and join programs’ waitlists within their existing application once offers are issued.

Other processes included multiple “rounds” (second — and sometimes third — matches run for students unhappy with their first offer). I architected these as separate but connected school directories and applications, since fewer schools are available than in the first round.

I wireframed each state of a user’s results and additional application rounds, which change over time and in response to different actions they can take.
Starting the second round application opens a new directory, which leads into Saved and Apply steps familiar to users from the first round.

For all results, rounds, and waitlists states, clear copywriting was crucial — a team effort between me, my team, and city staff. Any confusion could lead to devastated families. We tailored copy for each scenario, which made for many variations and lots of detailed QA.

Wireframes and copy variations for some of the many results scenarios we planned for.

In the end, we successfully designed all the post-application features in time, and our dev team hit the ground running after finishing the matching algorithm.

As the results release date neared, students and families eagerly awaited their new ability to see their offers and next steps online.

When the time came, we flipped the switch to release everyone’s offers simultaneously — no more families waiting for letters in the mail. While we would continue to improve MySchools, this was the last major release in the annual NYC school admissions cycle.