Coalition Application: New Tools, New Questions

When I consider my own college application process in the Fall of 2007, I recall a flurry of numbers: four years of hard work condensed into a single number, a highly successful (and admittedly somewhat lucky) Saturday in April when I took the ACT, and some SAT Subject Test scores. A couple of lines about varsity soccer and my experience as head editor of the school newspaper described my extracurriculars. I wrote an essay, clicked a few buttons and – BOOM – I had applied to college through the Common Application.

I only applied to one school Early Decision, but I knew that if I was rejected, I could come back to the Common App, add a few supplements, and quickly apply to the myriad of back-up schools I had identified. It was all fairly painless, but, in retrospect, how much did I really share about myself in that application process? Was I more to Vanderbilt than some data points, a few leadership credits, and a couple of campus visits? What if my credentials didn’t add up to the right number on paper; what if my value on a college campus needed to be heard, seen, and experienced by admissions officers in order to give me a fighting chance at admission?

Enter the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success: a new college admissions portal in its inaugural year. Unlike the Common Application’s 600 member schools, the Coalition currently boasts only 94 colleges on its roster (although others may be added). These 94 colleges include all of the Ivy League universities, public powerhouses such as the University of Virginia, UNC Chapel Hill, and Georgia Tech, as well as liberal arts colleges like Williams College and Amherst College. A full list is available here. To join the coalition, schools must be “affordable:” this is defined as public universities that have “relatively low tuition for students who are admitted from their state” and private schools that “have committed to provide enough financial assistance to meet the full-demonstrated financial need of every domestic student that they admit.” Additionally, the schools need to have a 6-year graduation rate of at least 70%.

The Coalition’s admissions portal consists of three main features: the coalition locker, collaboration space, and application portal. The first is the coalition locker. The locker is a digital space in which students as young as 9th graders can begin to amass favorite essays, projects, and even videos that can someday be attached to the final Coalition Application. Once a student has contributed content to the locker, they can then share it with mentors whom they invite to the process: high school counselors, teachers, or private college consultants in the collaboration space. Students can select individual pieces from their locker to receive feedback on or submit their entire locker for review. Feedback is given in the form of comments; only the student is capable of directly editing anything in the locker.

The Coalition hopes that this interaction will get students excited about and invested in the college application process early in their high school careers. Additionally, the Coalition aims to provide access to counseling for students from high schools with fewer resources, thereby driving up the number of students applying and matriculating to the 94 elite universities currently signed on to the program.

For the time being, the locker is mostly a storage and collaboration space between the students and trusted family, friends, and mentors.  A potential long-term benefit would be the ability to  move beyond the standard application credentials, such as GPA, standardized test scores, and the dreaded college essay. The locker provides a place to collect and reflect upon the most meaningful aspects of one’s high school years.  Depending on what supplemental materials the various Coalition schools allow, students can then use materials from the locker when it comes time to apply to college to highlight skills and experiences that might not have appeared in a traditional application.

A student with a demonstrated interest in an Art minor may choose to submit work from her 11th grade AP Studio Art course in addition to the standard essays. A prospective communications major could choose to include a video of a speech given during a rhetoric class, highlighting his gift of gab. These multimedia options could give the Coalition Application an edge over the Common Application.  If used to their full potential, multimedia options might also help address concerns among admissions officers, like Jeremiah Quinlan at Yale, that the process has become too “transactional.”

Finally, the Coalition Application itself is the final product that can be submitted to member institutions. Students can transfer files from their locker to the application, as well as upload files straight from their computer. The Application will also contain standard questions, such as general essays and essays submitted by individual institutions. It is important to note that the member schools have not expressed a preference for the Coalition Application over, say, the Common Application. For example, a visit to Vanderbilt University’s admissions page prompts students to “choose the application system that is right for you – we do not prefer one over the others.”

Feedback on the Coalition has been mixed. In this stressful age of college admissions, do we really need 9th grade students focusing heavily on college applications so early in the game? Perhaps it is more worthwhile for these students to focus on developing their passions and exploring the areas in which they excel, rather than tailoring themselves for a chance at admission to a specific university. Additionally, one of the Coalition’s stated values is to “leverage technology to level the playing field in college preparation.” James P. Conroy, chairman of post-high counseling at New Trier Township High School, disagrees with the assumption that these changes will level the field with respect to high-income and low-income applicants. As he stated in a recent New York Times article, “Why does this make [the process] less packaged? [Students] have essay help; now they will have video help.” Just as students with means have been able to seek out assistance with admissions essays, so too they will be able to get help with other media submissions.

This uncertainty seems to have resulted in most Coalition members’ dragging their feet with the class of 2017 admissions cycle.  At this time, only three schools (University of Florida, University of Maryland – College Park and The University of Washington – Seattle) have confirmed that the Coalition Application will be the only option for applicants. More than one third of the current members may not be accepting the Coalition Application for this admissions cycle, citing technological limitations as a main concern. Commitment to the Common Application might be another. Still another concern may be the Coalition’s raison d’être: will this application actually attract high-performing students who will stand out from the crowd with this alternate form of submission?

Most students will pursue the traditional application form, using a college’s own application or the Common Application to apply. For other students, who would benefit from an early start, the assistance of a mentor, and alternate methods of submission, the Coalition Application may be worth considering. Either way, the destination remains the same; now, students may have one additional path to get there.

Natalie Murphree is an Enrollment Specialist with Applerouth Tutoring and a licensed attorney. She was the 2014 premium tutor of the year at Applerouth, and enjoys her new role assisting families in developing customized test prep plans. In her spare time, she wins bass championships and studies Jeopardy episodes in preparation for her future 3-day championship run (which will be an Applerouth record!).

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