Image from Stocksnap.

Image from Stocksnap.

The world of college admissions is constantly changing. I’ve only been in college for two years, but my admissions experience might have been different if I were born a few years later. I wonder, for example, what it would have been like to take the new SAT or the AP Research class. The latest admissions development, namely the Coalition Application, is especially interesting because it highlights the difficulties that colleges face when they try to make themselves more accessible to low-income students.

Eighty prestigious colleges have associated themselves with the Coalition Application, which is essentially an alternative to the Common Application. It will be available next year, and its main purpose is to help low-income students by providing greater access to college counseling and financial aid resources. Starting in their ninth-grade years, high school students will be able to create “virtual lockers” that showcase their grades, test scores, extracurricular activities, and writing samples. Counselors, teachers, and mentors will be able to view these portfolios and provide personalized recommendations based on a student’s goals and prior accomplishments. The online format, at least in theory, will make a big difference for students who don’t have access to top-quality counseling at their own high schools.

In order to join the Coalition, a college needs to be considered affordable. For private colleges, this means meeting one-hundred percent of every student’s demonstrated financial need. This factor has been controversial at my university. My school is not currently part of the Coalition, but the administrators want us to join it because all of the other prestigious colleges have jumped on the bandwagon!

In order join the group, my school needs to find a way to meet more financial need. However, they don’t have a large enough endowment to do this while maintaining their current need-blind admissions policy. This means my school’s administration really wants us to switch to need-aware admissions, but many students have opposed this change because they don’t want any students to lose their chance at acceptance just because they don’t have enough money. That would contradict the ideal of college admissions as a meritocracy, especially since low-income students usually have fewer opportunities to show their merit. In general, there has been a lot of debate over whether the Coalition Application will actually accomplish what it intends to accomplish.

Aside from just increasing financial aid, the Coalition Application is aimed at making the admissions process more authentic and individualized. The Common Application played a role in many schools getting lots and lots of applications from students who didn’t care very much, simply because it became really easy to apply to many schools without much work. The Coalition Application will place a greater emphasis on seeing the whole person. College isn’t just about academics, and universities want to know that each student will contribute to the campus community outside the classroom.

This is why the Coalition Application will allow students to think and write about themselves even at the beginning of high school. This kind of self-reflection may be beneficial for students who might not otherwise have gotten much support in pursuing higher education, but I know that I would have been really intimidated if I had felt obligated to think seriously about college when I was in ninth grade. I’ve changed a lot since then, and it’s comforting to know that it didn’t matter very much what I did back then because I was able to get to get to a good university anyway. High school should be a time when you’re reasonably free to make mistakes and learn rather than feeling like every little decision about classes and clubs is under scrutiny. At the same time, many students really would benefit from higher levels of support.

If you’re applying to colleges in the next few years, you might have the opportunity to think about these questions firsthand as you decide whether or not to create a Coalition Application portfolio. I hope this article has helped you gain a better understanding of the initiative and its motivations.

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