New College Application System Aims to Increase Access and Boost Success

Long gone are the days when high school seniors filled out individual applications online to each of their choice schools — and further gone are handwritten applications mailed out individually with enough time before the deadlines.

A new system for applying to college aims to improve access and chances for success.For the past several years, prospective college students have been able to apply to their choice schools in a single system called the Common Application. This year, they have a new option from the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success, which aims to improve access to higher education and ensure students understand the costs of the schools they apply to.

Before we explore the new system, let’s review the older one.

Background on the Common Application

The Common Application (or Common App) system lets students apply to more than 600 schools. Students enter their information and credentials once, and the application goes out to every school on their list.

The Common App system tracks deadlines so students can monitor their application process. Students can also use the provided requirements grid to track the varying requirements for each school, including those that require supplementary essays or materials. Finally, students can use the Common App website to browse colleges by state or by type to discover new colleges.

Though the Common Application system substantially streamlines the process of getting into a college, some higher education leaders felt it could do a better job, especially for those in communities or schools that have less access to higher education opportunities. The new system addresses this challenge.

Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success

This year, college seniors can apply to several schools through the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success application system. The system goes beyond giving students free tools to search for colleges in that it ensures students know how much it costs to attend each school.

As of this year, roughly 90 fairly selective universities and colleges have joined the coalition, including all the Ivy League schools (note that only 49 of these schools are using the system for the 2016-2017 school year). As with the Common App, students can upload materials into the platform and decide which materials get sent to each school.

This new system differs from the Common App by allowing students to create a portfolio in their freshman year of high school. This portfolio can include a variety of materials such as coursework, projects or art samples. From there, students can share submissions with friends, parents and teachers, enabling them to receive ample feedback.

The feedback advantage

The tool’s ability to help students get more feedback on their application is significant for those who attend schools that lack college counseling. Ideally, more feedback produces better applications, which produces better opportunities. The secondary goal is to get students thinking and planning for college earlier and, hopefully, increasing their access to schools that are interested in their credentials and that can fund their education.

The coalition has strict requirements to participate in the system: Schools must be able to provide enough financial aid to meet the demonstrated need of all students they admit. Additionally, these schools must have at least a 70 percent graduation rate within six years. While only 140 schools meet these qualifications, 90 of them have already signed on with the coalition.

It’s true that multiple systems could confuse some students. Even so, the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success system advances the important goal of increasing access and opportunity among those who might not view college as a viable option.

The new platform’s objectives are laudable across the board: encouraging students to begin thinking about college earlier, giving them access to feedback and ensuring the colleges they apply to are committed to an affordable education for all their students.

Caitrin Blake has a BA in English and Sociology from the University of Vermont and a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Colorado Denver. She teaches composition at Arapahoe Community College.

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