Big QuestionsOur work related to complex challenges.

The Challenge

Design and scale a coaching model using technology to help first-generation college students stay on track.


IDEO’s early design for MyCoach was named a finalist for the Robin Hood Foundation College Success Prize. Beyond 12 has coached over 7,000 college students and tracked the progress of nearly 120,000 students nationally. 85% of students coached for four years have either earned a degree or remain enrolled six years after entering college.


MyCoach, an app that acts as students' college co-pilot, helping them navigate everything from financial aid and signing up for classes to connecting with like-minded students to stay inspired and motivated.

For students who are the first in their families to pursue higher education, navigating college can often feel like navigating a foreign country. Challenges like not having enough money or poor access to support services can make graduating an insurmountable hurdle. In fact, only 55% of students in The United States end up completing their degrees.

To help change this statistic, IDEO partnered with Beyond 12, an organization that provides personalized, virtual coaching to first-generation college students to help them learn how to register for classes, apply for financial aid, and much more. The challenge was to scale Beyond 12’s successful coaching model using technology in order to benefit as many students as possible.

In 2014, IDEO designed the MyCoach app, with the goal of helping students take ownership of their education and feel in control of their future. After the early version of the app was named as a finalist in the prestigious Robin Hood Foundation College Success Prize, Beyond 12 piloted the product with 3,500 college students across the US. Following the pilot, Beyond 12 and IDEO went back to work, using the resulting insights and data to design the next evolution of MyCoach.

First and foremost, IDEO sought to develop a more flexible model for Beyond 12 to enable scalability of the offering. As some students need more support than others, a blended business model was envisioned to recognize the spectrum of students’ needs. Engaging in-app content forms a supportive layer that helps students get organized, stay on track, and learn the skills they need to stay in college, while students who need more hands-on assistance can connect directly with coaches. An invisible data layer works behind the scenes to assess student risk and dynamically tailor student support throughout the school year.

Once the app’s model was solidified, creating a user experience that compels students to use it became essential to its efficacy. Growing up with technology has reshaped how many students engage with the world, and tools like Snapchat have set a new dynamic for participation. Youth today are the masters of their own digital worlds, fluidly jumping between conversations, engaging with stimulating content and contributing their own perspectives. As a result, MyCoach needed to speak students’ language and to create content that was authentically youthful and effective in order to be effective. By drawing inspiration from popular social sites, digital experiences and games, the team designed a user experience that keeps pace with a digitally native state of mind.

IDEO Designer, Isabela Sá explains the approach that led to MyCoach’s design and content strategy, “We created an app that makes no distinction between content and utility. We borrowed the content-first approach of social apps like Snapchat and Instagram and used it to teach students the skills and strategies they need to graduate. With that, the digital experience became more human. The intricate system that we had designed to power the whole thing was hidden below the surface. For students, the app was just the means to learn how to help themselves and get in touch with a coach when they needed one.”

Development is underway for the next version of MyCoach, which will allow Beyond 12 to scale its offering to reach exponentially more students in need.

To learn more about this project and how to work with IDEO, get in touch.

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