NYC Public Schools
An equitable, paper-free experience for public school admissions and enrollment.
As the largest school system in the U.S., The New York City Department of Education manages over 1.1 million students in more than 1,800 schools. Admissions and enrollment previously required a tedious paper-based workflow. We re-envisioned and digitized the process, and created a single suite of accessible and internationalized online applications for families, schools, and DOE admins.
Three Applications, One Experience
We were tasked with creating three user-facing web applications: one for parents and guardians, one for school administrators, and one for the NYC Public Schools Office of Student Enrollment. Each app has a different set of goals, use cases, and individual challenges.
The parent/guardian experience was designed to make finding and applying to schools a simple, transparent, and equitable process. The school admin portal was designed for school staff to manage enrollment of both their current and prospective students. The Office of Student Enrollment’s portal had a different set of requirements, as they needed to oversee all functionality, users, and processes—including the most important aspect of all: the matching algorithm that employs a logic-based system (based on the Gale Shapley Deferred Acceptance Matching Algorithm) for matching students to their school choices and returning a single offer.
Bringing Clarity to Complexity
The NYC Public School system is one of the most complex, diverse systems in the world. Because of the many moving pieces and rule-exceptions (such as a school that belongs to two districts in two different boroughs), we had to map out and plan for every variable, big or small.
In light of these complexities, we were dedicated to simplifying and demystifying the process, easing the burden on families. Now guardians simply add their children in order to see applications available to them — rather than having to first select an application. Next time they need to apply, the system will already have an application waiting for them. Interactive checklists and app walkthroughs explain the process. Dynamic information tailors schools’ acceptance criteria to the student. Filters allow guardians to find schools that suit their child—and their own schedule. And favoriting and drag-and-drop list building assist the decision-making process. It’s a one-stop shop for understanding, tracking, and making important choices for your future.
Accessible for All
We built this experience to be fully WCAG 2.1 AA+ compliant, taking into account the many ways a user could interact with the application. We designed for 10 very different languages, including right-to-left languages like Arabic. Buttons, cards, tooltips, and microcopy had to be handled with care so they could scale properly with dramatic shifts in length and character sizes when translated into another language. The intricacies of each school card had to allow for for proper keyboard tabbing, while also making hierarchical sense when interacted with via screen reader. And all of this works flawlessly at every screen size, ensuring that families without a home computer can still breeze through the application process on their smart phones.
Delight in the Details
The scope and flexibility of options makes applying to NYC Public Schools an involved undertaking. There are a lot of factors for families to consider, from program demand to specialized auditions, so we put a lot of thought into crafting a friendly, informative, and stress-free application process. Reassuring notices and fun interactions as you hover and favorite a program enhance the user interface, while “You know you did it right when you see the confetti” has become a common phrase used between advisors and parents.
Built for Admin Diversity, too
To make sure the back-end tools will support admissions long-term, we architected database models that allow staff to easily switch admin views between school years and grade levels in order to manage student, admissions, and school data. An auto-completing search field enables admins to rapidly retrieve any student’s record in order to assist them.
Robust permissioning ensures different roles can only access what they need. For example, support staff who work directly with families can adjust their applications, but aren’t able to make system-level changes.
Then there’s the rule-making, where a select set of admins can go in and refine the parameters surrounding things like due dates, manual placements, specialized school admissions, and even how “multiples” are handled (such as twins or same-age adopted/foster children). This unique feature-set ensures that DOE admins have a flexible tool that matches the wide-ranging and ever-evolving population of New York City.
The New York City Department of Education now has modern means to engage parents and caregivers and help them make educated choices for their students. Guidance counselors can now spend more time counseling and less time entering data. And the Office of Student Enrollment has better reporting and customization capabilities than they have ever had before.
“This is a great site that works exactly the way it’s supposed to. I have two kids in NYC schools, I’m getting ready to submit my youngest’s Pre-K application right now, and the process on there is just a breeze, so much easier than you would normally expect.”
- Anthem Award / Silver / Education – Innovation
- Communicator Award of Distinction / Education
- W3 Awards / Gold / Web Applications / Services
- W3 Awards / Gold / Local Government
- Summit Creative Awards / Silver / Government Websites
- Webby Awards / Honoree / Government & Civil Innovation