New alternative to Common App unveiled

Amy Cheng & Jon Victor

September 30, 2015

Yale is one of 83 colleges and universities nationwide that have teamed up to create a new college application portal that will provide an alternative to the Common Application.

On Monday, the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success announced the rollout of the Coalition Application, which will give applicants the opportunity to create an online portfolio during their freshman year of high school and add to it during the next four years. In addition, colleges will be able to communicate with registered users and provide feedback on their applications before students reach senior year. The platform will go live in January 2016, and some schools will begin accepting applications on it as early as summer 2016.

The initiative is intended to make college more affordable and accessible for students from underprivileged backgrounds by augmenting the availability of college advising resources, according to a Sept. 28 press release from the Coalition.

“Yale is very excited to be part of this highly collaborative effort in the world of college admissions,” Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan said. “Whether it’s working together to provide tools to students and schools, or thinking in an innovative way about changing the application process and mindset, we are very excited about the potential for the Coalition.”

In order to be considered for membership in the Coalition, institutions must have graduation rates of over 70 percent and demonstrate a commitment to making college affordable for their students. Affiliated private schools, including every Ivy League university, must meet all demonstrated financial need for U.S. applicants; public schools must have “affordable tuition” and need-based aid for in-state residents, according to the press release.

Quinlan said conversations about the Coalition — and Yale’s possible involvement — started in fall 2013 when the Common Application experienced technical difficulties, but the plans truly gained momentum when universities saw the potential of newly available technology to transform the landscape of college admissions.

Beginning freshman year, students using the application will be encouraged to upload artwork, written assignments and essays about extracurricular activities. Users will also have the option of sharing their portfolios with admissions officers and community organizers who can provide counseling on the students’ progress. Furthermore, colleges will be able to customize their sections of the application even beyond just supplementary essays. Quinlan said the details of Yale’s section of the application have yet to be worked out.

But experts in college admissions and Yale students interviewed expressed concerns that the initiative will only increase the burden upon low-income applicants, because of the Coalition’s selectivity and the expectation that students begin planning for college during freshman year. Critics have claimed the Coalition Application will have consequences that run counter to its mission. Brian Taylor, director of Ivy Coach, a New York-based college consulting firm, said the platform will actually discourage students from underprivileged backgrounds from even applying.

“It’s half-baked at best,” Taylor said. “It’s not even baked. They didn’t even put it in the oven. This is only making the admissions process more complicated and more stressful, which only precludes students who are disadvantaged from applying.”

Parke Muth, an admissions consultant and former dean of admissions at the University of Virginia, echoed Taylor’s claim that the new application portal would make the admissions process more stressful. He said that since the constituent schools of the Coalition are among the most selective in the country, the application will create pressure for students to look at only those.

“There’s already a lot of hype about going to a small set of schools. If this creates more of that, that’s not good,” Muth said. “The fact of the matter is, not a lot of students can go to those elite schools because they’re hard to get into.”

Taylor added that logistically, the Coalition Application would present challenges for admissions officers, since they will be taking on additional work in responding to students and advising them on their applications. When asked if Yale would hire new admissions officers to work with the portal, Quinlan said it is too early to say if Yale will be communicating with students through the platform.

Students interviewed were also wary of the Coalition Application. While Ruchita Gupta ’16 acknowledged that the application would be useful for students from large public schools without substantial college advising resources, she shared Taylor’s concern that the initiative would put extra pressure on students.

Alex Jang ‘19 said the system was a “terrible idea,” arguing that high school freshmen and sophomores have little understanding of where they will be in three or four years, so most people would not submit much to their online portfolios throughout their high school careers anyway. But, he added, when it came time to make said decision, “the kids that don’t submit materials freshman and sophomore year are inherently going to be at disadvantage.”

It also remains unclear what the introduction of the new application will mean for international students. Ladislav Charouz ‘19, who attended a British international school in the Czech Republic, said it is hard for international students to plan years ahead in the application process, as they still may be deciding where they want to go to college.

“Imagine yourself in ninth grade already picturing yourself all the way in America as an international student,” he said. “If there is that extra pressure to build a portfolio, I think I would have ended up in Britain.”

Muth also said the portfolio component of the Coalition Application could pose a significant challenge to international students, as many school systems around the world are more exam-based than those in the United States.

Still, others defended the initiative’s potential to make the college application process more transparent and interactive.

“My hope is that we’ll turn the college admissions process from a stressful, transactional process to one that is much more based on long-term planning and thought,” Quinlan said.

Kat Cohen, founder and CEO of IvyWise, another college consulting firm based in New York, agreed, adding that thinking about college early is important for admissions success. Because students will be logging their activities and other achievements throughout their high school careers, by the time they apply to colleges, they will have a wealth of information at the ready, she said.

Though Muth speculated that the member schools of the Coalition would eventually stop using the Common Application in favor of the new one, he and Cohen agreed that many other schools will continue to use the Common Application due to the Coalition’s strict membership requirements.

Last year, 860,000 students used the Common Application to submit over 3.7 million applications.