After the Common App’s technical difficulties disrupted the application process in 2013, many colleges and universities in the U.S. realized they might be better off having an application that is under their control.
They also realized that there might be a better way to measure a student’s candidacy, and from this the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success was born. Their primary missions, so they say, are to improve access to college and better support students in the admissions process.
It’s only natural that an organization named almost exclusively with buzzwords would create such a buzz. But it has also generated a great deal of confusion and controversy. With the platform having just launched at the end of April and the application supposedly to be ready for the 2016-2017 cycle, there are still many questions that have yet to be answered. If you’re among those wondering whether or not you should use the new application, or if you should use it for some schools but not others, here’s what we know so far:
What is the Coalition?
The Coalition is a group of colleges and universities, including all of the Ivy Leagues and many other highly regarded institutes of higher education, committed to providing access to an affordable college education and success. All member schools, including both public and private institutions, must offer an “affordable” education, through either low-cost, in-state tuition or by meeting domestic students’ demonstrated needs through financial aid. These schools are also committed to successful student outcomes, measured by high graduation rates. While this all sounds great, keep in mind that not all of the Coalition schools are “need-blind,” meaning some do consider students’ financial situations during the admissions process. Also, high graduation rates typically come with lower acceptance rates. So, most of these schools are already some of the most competitive, which means that they aren’t necessarily among the most accessible.
What are the Coalition’s Goals?
The Coalition’s goal is to create an admissions process that is innovative and continuously improving by leveraging technology to “level the playing field for college preparation.” In an attempt to do this, they have developed a new, mobile friendly application platform that aims to “stabilize the admissions process.” However, so far, it has been anything but stabilizing. There have been technical issues, confusion regarding privacy policies, and some uncertainty surrounding who is even accepting the application this year.
Though they were supposed to be released in January, the Coalition resources weren’t made available until the end of April, and the actual application won’t be released until July 2016. Ironically, the Coalition was formed in part in response to the Common App’s 2013 technical issues. So far, the new platform doesn’t seem like a safer or more reliable option.
Many college counselors are upset by the fact that the Coalition expects them to navigate this unclear, and seemingly unready, application on such short notice. It’s also unclear how this new platform will provide disadvantaged students with more access, especially considering that these students most likely go to schools with less resources and already overbooked guidance counselors.
So, which schools should I apply to via the Coalition?
*** This post was updated on June 15, 2016. See the newly announced list of colleges and universities accepting the Coalition App this fall!
To be honest, this is a difficult (if not impossible) question to answer at this point. Since almost all of the most highly sought after colleges and universities are members of the Coalition (MIT and Georgetown opted out), many students and parents are interested in learning more, especially if using the application can work in their favor. The Coalition firmly presented this new platform as an “option” and stated earlier on that this platform is not meant to replace any existing applications, including the Common App. However, there are rumors that a few coalition members, including the University of Washington and the University of Maryland College Park, will ONLY be accepting applications via the Coalition app this year. Moreover, many Coalition members have realized that they do not have the resources to support a new application yet, and as many as 30 members have decided to not use the new portal for the 2016-2017 application season. So, who IS using it? Well, we’re not sure. Coalition leaders won’t say yet who has opted out and probably won’t do so until closer to the application launch date in July. So much for access…
So, why should a student use the application then? What does it offer?
One of the main features of the Coalition platform is the Virtual Locker. The Virtual Locker is a free repository for students to store their work throughout high school. This could include an essay written for a class, a video from a performance or debate, or a work of art created by the student. Students can start storing items in their lockers as early as ninth grade and later submit them to colleges and universities as a part of their application. While the Coalition has firmly stated that the locker is not a tool to start the admissions process earlier and that college preparation is distinct from college application, many parents and counselors are concerned that this feature could result in additional years of stress.
The Coalition claims that the Virtual Locker will simply help students, especially those without access to college counseling, organize and prepare for college. However, it’s debatable whether students without the proper guidance will realize that a platform like this exists and figure out how to use it in a productive way.
Once students have stored some work in their Virtual Locker, they can use the Collaboration Space to get feedback from teachers, counselors and mentors. The Coalition hopes that the Collaboration Space will “complement counseling and engagement efforts designed to increase access.” School teachers, counselors and mentors can use this space to engage with students, measure their progress, and offer advice on coursework and application steps. The student has complete control over whom they collaborate with and what items in their locker they choose to share.
Counselors will also be able to use the collaboration space to send documents to students in “sealed envelopes,” such as transcripts and letters of recommendation. Students will be unable to view the contents of these envelopes, but they will be able to submit them along with the other components of their applications, giving them the ability to manage all aspects of their applications and submit everything at once.
The Coalition aims to make the application process more “holistic” by getting a more complete picture of applicants. This could include adding supplemental essays or allowing students to submit things that are out of the ordinary to better represent themselves. This is another reason why Coalition members may be moving away from the Common App, which announced in 2014 that it would no longer require members to include application essays or letters of recommendation as a part of their admissions processes.
Though additional essays and supplements may make the application process “better” in some respects by helping schools get to know each student as an individual rather than a number, this could also complicate things. What if students are applying to some schools that only use the Coalition App and others than only use the Common App? Just how much flexibility will Coalition member schools give themselves? What if students end up having to submit several completely unique and time intensive applications?
So, what REALLY is the Coalition’s motivation?
Obviously, we’re left with many questions. The application clearly isn’t ready to be launched, so what’s the rush? Do they want to create something better than the Common App? Why not just collaborate to fix the Common App? How will it improve access for underserved students? What do they really mean by “access” anyway? Ted O’Neill, a writer for the Noodle, reported that the majority of the counselors consulted during the creation of this application work at private schools, which suggests that the Coalition is, purposefully or inadvertently, catering to the same pool of applicants it already has.
Some have suggested that these schools are simply trying to get market share of the college application space. Others worry that this is just a ploy made by elite schools to receive more applications and lower their acceptance rates. Either way, despite the number of times the Coalition has boasted its desire to level the playing field, they have yet to explain HOW their virtual locker and collaboration space will do so. Will this platform truly “level the playing field” and provide access, affordability and success to all? Perhaps, but only time will tell. In the meantime, we’re curious to see how this all plays out and will be sure to update our readers as soon as more information becomes available.
Thinking about applying using the Coalition? Check out their newly released essay questions here!
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