There’s A New College Application In Town: What Parents Need to Know

Coalition for access affordability successBig News! Recently, a group of 83 public and private colleges announced a new collaboration, naming themselves “The Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success.” The group, which includes all Ivy League schools, along with many selective and prestigious public and private institutions, came together over frustration with the current Common Application and particularly the very poor roll-out of system upgrades to the Common App, which caused problems for families, high schools, and colleges during the fall of 2013. There’s still a lot of confusion and vagueness about the groups’ true goals and how their new proposed application platform will really work, but if you’re a parent with a current high school student, it’s probably worth starting to understand what’s going on. 


What is The Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success?

To be a member of this new coalition, colleges must pass a certain set of requirements:

  1. All schools that are members must graduate at least 70% of their undergraduates within 6 years.
  2. Private colleges must pledge to meet the demonstrated financial need of all U.S. students; public schools must have affordable tuition for in-state students and solid financial aid.

Their “new” process consists of a platform where students can save schoolwork or other writings/projects to share with colleges and other people that may be advising them. These “virtual college lockers” would be started in 9th grade and could include writings, photos, and videos. The idea is that the “locker” would facilitate more interaction between colleges and students at an earlier grade, in particular to benefit those students who do not get any or poor guidance on the college process. Supposedly with the new coalition app, member colleges will have more opportunity to customize their applications to gather information they feel will help them in their holistic admissions process.

However, this is where the vagueness begins – it’s unclear whether the college or student would initiate interaction; it’s unclear if schools will have different policies on what and when they are willing to look at “locker” contents; it’s unclear what type of feedback schools would be providing; it’s unclear who will help student’s create their virtual locker, and it’s unclear if this would replace the Common App or not. And I’m sure this is just the tip of the iceberg of what is “unclear” about this new proposed process.

As one can imagine, with change comes resistance, weariness, and criticism. I have to admit I’m skeptical, but I’m holding off judgement till there’s more details and reliability to what is being presented. 

The announcement of this new coalition and application process was most likely purposely timed to days before the annual conference of the National Association Of College Admission Counseling (NACAC), where it created a tremendous buzz and anxiousness among attendees. There have also been a flurry of articles and opinions written, many with very worthwhile comments. Below is a collection of excerpts which should give parents a sense of the concerns of many high school and college counselors. 

(From Inside Higher Ed’s Coalition of Willing or the Wealthy?)

“….critics said the system [new coalition app] was excessively complicated and would end up favoring both wealthy applicants and wealthy colleges. Many said the new system was tailor-made for those who hire private counselors or attend private high schools with low student-counselor ratios. Others questioned the criteria for membership in the coalition, saying that those rules blocked from membership the colleges most low-income students attend.”

David Rion, director of college counseling at Sonoma Academy, wrote   “….Any tool that is somewhat complicated in the college admissions process automatically advantages those who are already advantaged. And this tool sounds somewhat complicated!”

“What this system seems to be is to continue to focus on selectivity rather than on finding the right college for an individual student,” said Robert J. Massa, senior vice president for enrollment and institutional planning at Drew University, via email.

“It suggests that a portfolio is the way in, so rather than being a learning tool as my colleagues genuinely intend, it will, by human nature, likely become a competitive tool — ‘Keep that portfolio up to date and impressive; begin working on it as soon as you can but no later than day one of ninth grade; contact colleges early to show interest and get their feedback (how will colleges manage that one?).’ It can easily become one more tool to help students demonstrate that they are who the colleges want them to be — rather than to be themselves. And perhaps worst of all, free or not, the most sophisticated students will likely be the most active — not those who are currently underserved.”

One counselor from a Jesuit high school said that his institution embraces the Jesuit ideal of “care of the whole person” and that the portfolios/virtual lockers were a step in the wrong direction…..If high school freshmen are encouraged to start creating a document about their learning, “I worry very deeply about my ninth graders, 10th graders and 11th graders focusing so much on preparing for college and not the high school experience,” he said, to sustained applause.


(From The Chronicle of Higher Education’s New College Application Site Aims to Capture Traits of Success – Like Grit And Engagement)

The Chronicle interviewed Jim H. Wolfston Jr., the president of CollegeNet, the technology company that teamed up with the coalition to create the new platform.

Q. How might a journal fit into this?

A. We hope that this new criterion for college admissions will reflect all those things. A willingness to write, a willingness to journal, or use video. Under this concept, students do have full control. So it’s up to them to decide what pieces go into the application. It gives the university’s application a chance to draw from things they never perhaps considered before, like a video. It’s going to give a wider array of data that a university could consider incorporating into its application.

Q. There’s been a lot of talk about how the platform would promote early engagement. What kind of communications will students be getting? What will those messages from member colleges look like?

A. It’s up to the institutions. I can’t predict what they’ll do. But wouldn’t it be cool if one of the schools said, “Hey, are you willing to share a page of your diary?”? That would be a cool thing to do because, guess what? Edison, Picasso, Beethoven, many great people have kept diaries in which they’ve written and reflected on their lives. That sets up a habit, a habit for success. By simply saying, We’re interested in a page of your diary, that’s cool. Now that starts to get them knowing that it matters.

Q. But who’s going to read that? And what are colleges going to do with it?

A. It almost doesn’t matter in that case. Other than to say, “Thank you very much. We appreciate you sharing.”


(From The Washington Post The new college admissions coalition: Is it really about access?)

At the heart of this is a simple question: Are low-income students really hard to find? Or could the admissions processes simply be ignoring them by requiring students from resource-poor backgrounds to look and act like wealthier students? In 2013, the 52 private colleges in the coalition denied admission to 631,000 students; the 1,231 other private, degree-granting, four-year colleges in the United States denied only 1.4 million among them. The eight Ivy League members of the coalition alone denied over 220,000. If one believes the rhetoric that as many as half of those denied at the Ivies are academically capable, and if only 10 percent of those are low-income, the eight most prestigious institutions in the nation might be sitting on a pool of over 10,000 good candidates from which to choose. (Of course, some of these are the same students denied at one place and admitted at another.)

  1. […] There’s a New College Application in Town: What Parents Need to Know The R2C Takeaway: The Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success is a new group of 83 public and private colleges, formed as a result of their frustration with the Common Application. The main premise of this coalition, however vague, is that students as early as 9th grade, can have a “virtual locker” into which they can store writings, photos, videos, etc. The idea is that the “locker” would facilitate more interaction between colleges and students at an earlier grade, in particular to benefit those students who do not get any or poor guidance on the college process. Many high school and college counselors are uneasy about this new application, and whether it will really benefit the students remains to be seen. […]


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