Admissions and alumni representatives of various colleges and universities set up for college night at Chambersburg Area Senior High School in Chambersburg, Pa. on October 21, 2014. (Ryan Blackwell – Public Opinion)

Every year high school seniors across the country apply to college in what can only be described for most as a nerve-wracking and even soul-draining experience. They — and their parents — rail about the time-consuming and complicated process, but year after year the process survives.  What, though, if it were changed in a really big way? In this post, Dennis Eller, college counselor at the private Canterbury School in Fort Wayne, Indiana, imagines how a new college admissions process could work. He has been the Canterbury college counselor since 1988 and has led sessions on this topic and others at both state and national conferences of high school and college admission counselors. His college counseling program at Canterbury School was recently featured in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette for its innovation and comprehension.

 

By Dennis Eller

It’s that time of year . . . again. That time when anxious seniors and even more anxious senior parents are fretting over their college applications. What’s the deadline again? Have all of my school materials been sent? Do you have my teacher recommendations? Has the college received my test scores? Do I have a complete application? The questions fly faster than high school counselors can answer them because we are way too busy processing materials. And in a matter of just a few weeks, those at the college end are going to be way too busy collecting materials to keep their online application status updates . . . updated.

I’ve been saying for the last several years that the college application process, as we euphemistically call it, needs to join the 21st Century. We could not create a more complicated, convoluted, cumbersome, and inefficient method of determining which students go where for college if we tried.

I write this as high school counselors all over the country are trying to send supporting documents for students they are working with, students are trying to send applications to colleges they are applying to, the College Board and ACT are trying to send official SAT and ACT test scores, teachers are trying to send letters of recommendations, and parents are trying to avoid racking up serious charges to their credit cards to pay for all of this sending.

Meanwhile, colleges are simultaneously attempting to receive all of this information so that they can organize it neatly into their  computers (once the interface is accomplished) so that admission  officers can read it on their laptops and notebooks. The only thing missing from the 20th Century regarding this process are the neatly or not so neatly stacked boxes of vanilla folders, waiting to be physically handled and read by weary admission counselors. Those are all pretty much a thing of the past — though not entirely.

The time spent sending and receiving all of these various documents, translating them into formats that each college’s computer system can handle, matching them all to the right student from the right state with similar — but not always —  the same name before any action can take place is astronomical. No wonder colleges charge upwards of $75 just for a student to apply!

There must be a better way. And there is.

Online profiles are certainly nothing new. Aspiring high school athletes use sites like Prospectsites.com and beRecruited.com to get the attention of college coaches. Business men and women use LinkedIn and XING to network with other professionals, find employees as well as new jobs. What’s keeping the college application process from taking this next step?

What if:

*High schools upload official transcripts, secondary school reports, school profiles, and school letters of recommendation to a student’s  online profile? These documents would be stored in a “secure” section that students could not access.

*Students upload application information, essays, resumes, videos, research projects, pretty much anything they feel would be of interest to prospective colleges to their online profiles.

*The College Board and ACT upload official scores to the students’ profiles as well — once. No more paying $11 or $12 to have scores sent to every single college.

*Teachers upload letters of recommendation and supporting forms to the online site as well.

Everything a college would need to make a decision would, from the start, be in one place. All the colleges would have to do is look, and each could choose to look at as much or as little of the uploaded information as they deemed necessary. No more application fees to cover the cost of assimilating all of these disparate documents into one virtual place.

Are there details to be worked out? Of course. Here are a few: Who would host this new venture? How would it be financed? What’s to keep a student from “applying” to a hundred colleges?

The details could be worked. So what’s keeping us from moving to such a system? Nothing, really, but there are entities that wouldn’t much like it.

The Common Application would not like it, of course, because it puts them out of business.

Naviance would hate it because they’re gone, too.

College Board and ACT, the two 800-pound gorillas in the room would detest it because they, as non-profit organizations, would be back to … well, not making a profit.

In short, all of the third party groups that have taken over the college application process would be quick to point out all of the potential dangers and problems with such a system. And therein lies the answer to why this hasn’t already happened.

But as the saying goes, “If not now, when? If not us, who?” It’s time to stop the insanity of the “college application process.” Let’s drag it into the 21st Century.