Having completed college applications during COVID-19, finding in-depth information into the atmosphere, daily life, and monetary costs of universities was a struggle. In addition, the inability to physically visit colleges made it nearly impossible to gauge not only the environment but also the people on campus. The internet can only do so much to account for such voids; it offers high level statistics and generalized surface-level information but nothing more. High school students still struggle to understand what it is like to be a part of a university and to envision themselves in a current college student's shoes. They lack vital information that would be of immense use in their application processes such as course load, social atmospheres, financial aid processes, and connections as a whole.

One existing solution would be to seek out a college counselor, but many counselors have outdated information and are far past the age at which they applied to universities--which consequently creates an age-gap-induced social barrier. On top of this, many students from low-income families and neighborhoods lack the financial freedom to be able to hire a college counselor in the first place. Because of this, we felt that a platform was greatly needed to connect current college students and high school students in a casual environment to enable high school students to not only have their imperative questions answered, but also to gain a holistic and confident outlook on their futures at and beyond college.

What it does

Unify is a platform that connects high school students with current college students to provide them with an opportunity to obtain more in-depth knowledge in regards to specific colleges as well as to start building their connections. Upon registering an account, high school students can enter their major/career interests and are given access to a dashboard in which they can enter and manage their college list, along with indicators that display their progress, due date, and application category (reach/target/safety) of their respective applications/essays.

High school students also have trouble when it comes to planning their college finances, especially for students who will later go on to graduate schools. Unify comes with a built-in finance tool that performs advanced calculations to provide students with accurate pricing models for their prospective tuitions, offering valuable insight into how they should manage their money and what they should expect over the course of their academic career. Financial literacy is also a big deal for families in general as they work to sponsor their children's education.

Students can then access an explore page where they are intelligently recommended college students that attend institutions that the high school students are applying to and those that are majoring in the interests of the high school students. High school students can reach out to college students by viewing their profiles and using the built-in messaging feature to ask questions about college and career fields. College students can also register accounts and keep track of their high school connections, but can also access a counseling dashboard in which they are given the ability to become an honorary college counselor upon request. This is extremely useful to high school applicants because college students charge low prices for their services, but they are all-too-familiar with the process themselves and are also easier to get along with than older, more prestigious college counselors. College students can also provide updated information on their schools and give specific insight into what makes their campus experience special. College students can keep track of their ratings, counseling sessions, transactions, and messaging threads in an intuitive interface.

How we built it

Unify was built using React.js with the addition of the Chakra UI component library. In addition, we utilized Google Cloud's Firestore to store, access, and modify all user information. Tuition data inside the financial information modal for each college on the student dashboard was derived from Kaggle.

Challenges we ran into

Throughout the challenge, learning and adapting to the new APIs was a challenge. Specifically, creating and connecting Firebase to our frontend and obtaining keys was a bit of a challenge. However, once these issues were resolved, the product was very rewarding. Financial calculations and scraping for college tuition statistics were also a challenge, but we overcame it through a bit of outside reading and research. Some of the tools that we used were new to many of us, so going through the process of learning, applying, and then debugging was quite a struggle.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

We are very proud of how functional our web app turned out. All team members were purposefully assigned to roles in which they had to work with frameworks and languages that they hadn't touched on before, and yet we were able to figure out the functionalities and deliver a nearly end-to-end web app for streamlining the college application process and leveling the financial literacy playing field. We're also proud of the organization of our code. We organize everything into components and have a utils file where all the calls to the database are managed. All of the data that we display is stored on a Firestore database, a tool that none of us were really familiar with before. Finally, we were very satisfied by how we were able to incorporate information about a college's financial costs into Unify. Tuition and other associated expenditures are defining element of every student's college decision making and we are proud that Unify can help them make core budgeting choices.

What we learned

Through this challenge, we learned the importance and value of teamwork, specifically dividing and conquering. Abstraction came to be very important was individuals were able to work on their portion knowing that the other portions would work. For example, our frontend developers were confident that the backend would work without directly interfacing with it, whereas backend developers relied on the efficient components that frontend developers created.

Technically, we learned how to build a react app with Chakra UI and how to host a Firestore database with Google Cloud. We also learned how to integrate Firebase authentication into our app with Google Sign-In.

What's next for Unify

In the future, we hope to finish our monetization system to truly allow college students and high school students to interact through our platform more naturally. In addition, we hope to finalize our messaging system and our database storage method.

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