What do Ohio State, Harvard, and Yale all have in common? A new college application!

A new college application is coming your way – Is the Coalition a wonderful new tool or a marketing ploy?

College-bound students are familiar with the Common Application, used by over 600 universities and colleges to apply for admission. Recently a small group of 80 elite and selective schools have announced their launching of the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success with their own unique application. So far the list of schools are the heavy hitters with the deep pockets and clout. What does this mean for the college admission process? More importantly, what does this mean for YOU?!

The Coalition was created by the member schools to address some real needs:

  • The process of applying to college can be confusing and discouraging especially to those with limited access to guidance resources.
  • Disadvantaged students don’t take advantage of colleges that meet 100% of need.
  • The Common Application does not allow for flexibility within it for individual colleges to customize the application.

To achieve this goal, the Coalition created tools including a Virtual College Locker tool with a Collaboration Platform and a Coalition Application. The Locker/Collaboration tool will be live in April 2016, and the Application will be live in July 2016. We can’t really comment on how the specifics will work yet, but we can share what they have announced.

Students will be encouraged to share materials with the Virtual College Locker starting in their freshmen year. Materials would include artwork, essays, activities, and achievements. They can share these materials with admissions counselors and community organizers who can guide them on their path with the intent of helping students be prepared for college. This service would be free.

The Application would not be free. After a short demographic section, colleges can customize the short answer and essay sections, ideally linking those essays with the student’s submitted materials. 61 of the 80 Coalition institutions currently accept the Common App.  At this time, the Coalition says they will still continue to accept the Common App. This acceptance may change in the future and it will be up to each institution to decide. 

With all this great sounding stuff, what could possibly be the problem? Hopefully nothing, but some concerns exist among industry insiders. Let’s examine this new name…

Coalition:  The list of 80 schools includes all the Ivy League schools, many private schools, and highly selective flagship public universities with 70% six-year graduation rates. This high graduation rate will exclude most public universities—creating an elitist group in an industry already struggling with charges of elitism.

(Can we pause for a side rant? When did graduating kids in 6 years become something to be proud of?  When you think of paying for college, do you run the numbers for 6 years? I didn’t think so. The fact is, less than half of college students earn their undergraduate degree in 4 years. Add 2 more years to the equation and your total cost just went up over 50%! Yikes!  Our vision for every family is to graduate ON TIME (4 Years) with manageable student loan debt without robbing retirement.) 

Access:  Are they making the system even more confusing? Will their intended target, disadvantaged students, be able to rise to the educational requirements demanded by these 80 universities in order to be accepted? These schools are by definition “selective” and the most difficult to get into.  They say they are “leveling the playing field for all students”, but are they?

Online resources are wonderful and in theory everyone has an equal opportunity to build their portfolio.  The reality is, affluent families will hire professionals and well funded school districts will commit resources to crack the code and build their “digital locker portfolios” to get into these top schools. The Coalition is saying these portfolios will not influence admission decisions, but will they? Without the proper coaching on how the tool works, the students who need the most help will still be at a disadvantage. The concepts and goals are great, but for this idea to work the collaboration component with access to mentoring and coaching from “community organizers” aspect is crucial for disadvantaged students. Without it, families with resources in good school districts will continue to have an unfair advantage. 

Affordability:  The schools on this list are not cheap! They are some of the most expensive around. We worry many of our highest priced institutions, the ones on this list, will eventually only be attended by students whose wealthy parents can write the entire check, or economically disadvantaged kids that the school will pay for.

Many of the institutions in the Coalition meet 100% of need, which is AMAZING.  We always say never rule out a school based on the sticker price. The caveat is those same schools typically ONLY award need based financial aid.  So, if your family is financially successful and has no demonstrated need, it doesn’t matter if you are the valedictorian with a perfect ACT score, you will receive exactly $0 in scholarship.  Typical families we see have Expected Family Contributions of around $50,000, but they certainly can't write that check every year.

Success:  By putting the emphasis on starting in freshman year, are they just ramping up the stress level for students? Are they simply extending the period when those hoping for an elite education feel the pressure to comply? We are not clear on how this new system will help students become “college ready”. 

As a result of this new emphasis on starting earlier, our hope is parents will be more proactive and create a viable college-funding plan much earlier instead of trying to figure it out in the junior and senior year of high school. Having the guidance provided through the Virtual College Locker does not mean you can afford them. Ask any graduate swimming in loads of student loan debt, and I promise you their definition of “success” in college is also defined by their financial well being as a working adult.   

Each part of this new name seems intended to deliver a marketing message to the college-bound audience. But will it be reality? Or just message? We think good may come out of this, but we also wonder what unintended consequences this new Coalition may have. Will it just muddy the already murky college admissions water?  Time will tell.