Brown joins coalition backing Common App alternative

Julia Choi

October 6, 2015

Brown and more than 80 other institutions have joined a new coalition that aims to provide high school students with an alternative to the Common Application. The Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success will offer applicants a set of online tools starting in January 2016 in the hopes of “leveling the playing field for students from all backgrounds,” according to its website.

Statistics reveal that students from disadvantaged backgrounds often face difficulties with the application process and struggle with financial aid applications, according to the Coalition’s website. By providing a set of online tools — including a digital portfolio, a collaboration platform for feedback on essays and an application portal — the Coalition hopes to “recast the application process as the culmination of students’ development” over the course of high school.

Colleges and universities must have at least a 70 percent graduation rate to join the Coalition. Members of the Coalition include all eight Ivy League schools, Stanford University, Amherst College and Williams College.

Discussions about the Coalition began in the 2013-14 academic year, when the Common App experienced significant technical issues, wrote Dean of Admission Jim Miller ’73 in an email to The Herald. 

“It seemed prudent to think about an alternative platform … to mitigate the disruption of similar technical problems in the future,” Miller wrote. But as discussion progressed, “the group decided it had the chance to rethink” and develop a more effective process than the Common App, he wrote.

“The platform tools … will help make applying to college a more natural culmination of students’ development over the course of their high school careers, rather than a one-time transaction,” he wrote. They will also “allow students to begin planning for college much earlier — of particular importance to students from under-resourced schools and communities,” he added.

But several admission experts pointed out what they perceive as several flaws in the Coalition’s approach.

Though the Coalition’s “chief objective is allegedly to encourage underprivileged students,” these students often do not have access to computers or experienced guidance counselors, said Brian Taylor, director of Ivy Coach.

The Coalition’s collaboration platform will create more work for guidance counselors through its editing and feedback features, Taylor said. Admission officers will also need to work harder to maintain the open line of communication with students that the Coalition calls for, he said.

The Common App financially penalizes universities who accept an additional application, Taylor said. “Mark my words — schools will start dropping out after one year once they realize the unintended consequences. These schools don’t want to face penalization,” he said. 

Steven Goodman, educational consultant and admission strategist at Top Colleges, said the main problem with the current admission process is that “students who could be coming to universities aren’t … because of the cost,” which the Coalition “attempts to address but doesn’t address completely.” 

“It doesn’t address the issue of who’s going to pay more financial aid for the new students,” Goodman said. “Will universities use more of their institutional resources to increase financial aid funding?” he asked, adding that he anticipates more students coming to see him earlier for consultations.

Ann Selvitelli, director of college counseling at Suffield Academy, a private school in Connecticut, said the Coalition’s mission is “admirable.” 

“The portfolio could be a good idea,” she said, though she noted that students might worry about uploading their work during their early high school years for fear it may have a negative impact later.

The Coalition’s launch coincides with other changes in the admission process related to the SAT, the PSAT and financial aid, Selvitelli said. This slew of changes may make the next few years “anxiety-provoking” for applicants, especially coupled with the fact that “all the first-rate colleges and universities are involved,” she said.

Last weekend, Selvitelli traveled to the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s 71st National Conference, where she said there “were not as many concrete answers as people were hoping for” regarding the Coalition.

“We need more time and more information,” she said. “Anything new and unknown is a little bit terrifying.”