October 6, 2015

Universities Nationwide Plan to Launch New Application Platform

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A group of 80 public and private universities announced plans on Sept. 28 to improve the college admission process by launching a new application platform. The group, which includes all eight Ivy League institutions, is known as the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success and aims to reshape the traditional approach to admissions and increase educational access for low-income families and underrepresented groups.

The coalition formed in response to barriers low-income students often face in the college admissions process. They plan to launch a new application website which they hope will make the process more broadly accessible. 

“The schools in the Coalition have individually tried many different and creative approaches to address these challenges,” said Jeremiah Quinlan, dean of undergraduate admissions at Yale University, in a statement from the coalition. “We have come to the conclusion that we can have a much bigger impact on student access and completion if we work together.”

Discussions over these plans date back to Oct. 2013. Deans from Cornell and approximately 25 other institutions began to informally meet at that time due to “significant concerns about the Common Application,” according to Jason C. Locke, Cornell associate vice provost for enrollment. The coalition’s new website will rival the Common Application, a platform about 600 universities currently use to handle the application process.

“Initially, Cornell joined the coalition discussions because the technical problems with the Common Application posed a very serious institutional risk for the more than 500 colleges and universities that relied solely on the Common Application as our online application vendor,” Locke said.

Focus quickly shifted from the Common Application’s technical issues to broader, structural inequalities inherent in the system.

“However, as we continued to discuss the idea, the concept of simply creating a second admissions application evolved into something more. We began to talk about how to improve the admissions application process and, specifically, how to engage more low income students from under-resourced schools,” Locke said.

The initial iteration of the platform will be available to high school freshmen, sophomores and juniors in January 2016, according to the coalition. Although the platforms and tools are still under development, the coalition plans to provide tools for students to use to begin their application as early as their freshmen year of high school, according to The Huffington Post.

Students will be able to use this online application in the same way they currently use the Common Application. However, in addition to allowing students to submit college applications, the website will also allow students to create digital portfolios and to receive feedback and advice from college admissions offices. Students can upload any work they have completed in high school that they feel best demonstrates their interests and abilities onto the portfolio.

Some universities have thought about making application questions more personal by relating the questions to material in the student’s portfolios, according to Insider Higher Ed.

“Starting to think about college earlier reduces some of the pressure of the application process, but more importantly, it sets the expectation that students should aspire to attend college,” said Seth Allen, vice president and dean of admissions at Pomona College, in a statement for the coalition. “There are so many talented students who should aim for a great school, but they often don’t understand the path to get there.”

By providing these free resources and encouraging planning and growth over multiple years, the coalition hopes to level the playing field for all students and aid students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Students will still have to pay an application fee unless they qualify for application fee waivers, according to Locke.