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It is that time of year when the new college application season kicks to life again, with the Common Application going live on Monday, and three members of a new application tool now online as well, with more to come.

The Common App, of course, is a major player in the applications sweepstakes, having been developed in 1975 to help reduce the number of separate applications and essays a student applying to numerous colleges and universities would have to complete. But last fall, as independent educational consultant Nancy Griesemer explains in this post, more than 80 big-name public and private colleges and universities announced a plan to turn the college admissions industry on its head by creating a new way for high school students to apply to college.

It’s called the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success, and it has been working to launch a series of online college planning and application tools that were supposed to simplify the process and improve college/student interaction throughout the high school years. As it happens, a number of college counselors don’t think it has simplified anything, but, still, more than 50 schools that also accept the Common App will allow applicants to apply through the coalition.

Coalition members include Harvard and Yale universities, along with every other Ivy League school, Stanford University, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Virginia and the University of Michigan. The stated goal of the coalition is to encourage low-income families to apply to this select group of colleges, but critics wonder how many will be really helped, given that all students can use it.

In this post, Griesemer offers an excerpt of an interview she recently conducted with Annie Reznik, the coalition’s newly appointed executive director. (You can read the entire interview here on Medium.com.)

Griesemer follows colleges and the admissions process both for her private practice and for her blog. She has been an advocate for greater transparency in the way colleges recruit and admit students, and she supports the need for a simpler and less stressful application process.  She says she’ll be the first to tell you that it’s certainly “not the direction in which we are going” — but with these goals in mind, she closely follows online applications as an “increasingly competitive” industry affecting how students apply and are admitted to college. Here’s her post:

 

By Nancy Griesemer

As the new executive director of the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success, Annie Reznik has a huge set of responsibilities and a never-ending list of projects related to ensuring a smooth launch of the 2016-17 Coalition application platform.

“Right now I am laser-focused on ensuring a seamless application launch for member schools and the students who will use the Coalition application,” Reznik said. “The challenges of leading an organization in its infancy are immense — but the promise of the Coalition is incredible and I feel so fortunate to be in a position to help build this bridge.”

As a former counselor, Reznik is very aware of how important information is to anyone working on the front lines with college applicants and their families. And to improve communications with the counseling community, Reznik is making full use of the coalition’s behind-the-scenes counselor advisory group, has created a monthly newsletter going out to the coalition’s mailing list, and is making herself available for interviews or question-and-answer sessions. She recently agreed to answer a series of questions coming from within the counseling community on various issues related to the launch of the Coalition application.

Question:  With all the promotion around the mission of the Coalition application, there exists some confusion as to who “should” use the application. Students and counselors have indicated some concern about using a tool that may be “reserved” for low-income or underrepresented groups. Is the Coalition application only for low-income, minority or first generation students? If no, how would you explain to students that while you’re hoping the new application will be a “better” tool for these groups, it’s not meant to be exclusive to them and member colleges will not have negative feelings about students choosing to use it?

Answer:  The Coalition tools, including the Locker, Collaboration Space, and Application are available to all students. As member institutions and others engage in outreach initiatives for lower-resourced students, these tangible tools will anchor that important work. Any student is welcome to use the Coalition application as well as the free college planning tools.

Question:  It is my understanding that you are open to having a working relationship with Naviance and that a PDF was initially developed with assistance from Naviance outlining how Naviance schools should work with the Coalition for this year and into the future. This project was put on hold after Naviance changed course, backed away from the project and declined to work on developing a partnership. Hobsons, the corporate head of Naviance, has indicated they intend to watch the “market” to see if there is any reason to work with the Coalition. For now, they seem to have no intention of providing support to counselors using Naviance tools with the Coalition application — it doesn’t appear to be in their corporate interests. So, what is the status of your relationship with Naviance? Do you foresee ever having a relationship or integrating similar to the ways in which the Common Application works with Naviance?

Answer:  First, there is a difference in the way that documents are shared in the Coalition platform as compared to other applications. In other electronic transmission situations, secondary schools share materials with colleges on behalf of students. With the Coalition application, schools share materials with students in virtually sealed envelopes. Then, the student submits these documents to colleges. Putting the student at the center of this process is important particularly for students coming from less resourced secondary schools. This ensures fewer barriers to submitting an application. It also creates less work for counselors who carry heavy student caseloads — they simply provide a single, confidential, electronic set of documents to each student.

We are committed to providing a no-cost, simple tool for transmission of secondary school materials. Submission of materials through the Coalition application is as simple as adding an attachment to an email. All schools, whether they use Guided Path, Maia Learning, Naviance, PowerSchool or any other system, will be able to send transcripts, letters of recommendation, and other official documentation through the Coalition platform. Again, simple, free transmission of materials is an essential component of a process that is accessible for all students. And counselors will be able to see the list of schools to which the student applies.

As to future partnerships with any of these school-based systems, there are no immediate plans to integrate technologies with any one system.

Question: Is it true that only a couple of colleges will be Coalition-exclusive? Are others with school-specific CollegeNET applications considering dropping the “old” application in favor of going Coalition-exclusive sometime after launch?

Answer: There are three colleges that plan to accept the Coalition application rather than continue to offer students an institution-based application. The University of Florida and the University of Washington intend to make that change in 2016, while the University of Maryland has decided to make the Coalition application their sole application in 2017. These colleges plan to accept the Coalition application rather than continue to offer students an institution-based application. I like to think of them as “Coalition inclusive” since this is the first time that students can apply to the University of Florida, the University of Maryland, and the University of Washington at the same time or alongside a number of other colleges.

Both the University of Florida and the University of Washington plan to accept the Coalition application in 2016 and the University of Maryland has deferred to 2017. ​

Others may make this shift in future years. ​

Question: Is the Coalition still on track for officially launching at the end of July? Do you have a specific launch date?  Can you clarify that just because the application is ready for use, many members will delay launching their individual applications. For example, Swarthmore will go live on Aug. 1 while the University of Washington will go live on Oct. 1. Can you reassure counselors that this is not unusual? In fact, many Common App colleges don’t go live on opening day. I understand these decisions are either technology-driven or intentional strategy. While sometimes annoying, this isn’t the fault of the application provider. Applications effectively roll out in waves — not all at once. Can you explain this from the Coalition’s perspective?

Answer:  The Coalition application is on schedule. No college will begin accepting applications before the end of July and each institution will determine their own “open date.” There is a balance with serving both students and individual institutions with unique priorities. Some schools do not want students to apply before mid-September and so they control for that in the only way possible — by not accepting applications. Other member institutions recognize that students may want to use the summer to complete applications and so they will make their application available much earlier. In some cases a later start is related to readiness, but in ​most cases schools are merely following long-held application windows.

​Question:  At the HECA conference, the Coalition panel presented examples of how different colleges (Yale, Pomona etc.) might import materials stored in the Student Locker for various kinds of application requirements (graded papers, resumes etc.). The panel was careful to say that these were simply “examples” and not meant to be real illustrations. Can you give me some “real” examples? As you know, some of these kinds of materials benefit from a little advance planning (now where is that paper?).

Answer:  Some of our members are on a shared platform for the first time and are taking a brand new look at how they ask questions. Others have been part of a consortium application that has served them well and they are replicating that application as much as possible so that students have a similar experience regardless of the platform. Other schools will take advantage of the opportunity for their institutional identity to be reflected through an application that provides individual schools greater latitude. ​

Question:  The Common Application allows for 10 extracurricular activities to be reported on their application. How many will the Coalition application allow?

Answer:  ​The Coalition application asks students to identify two primary extracurricular activities. Students are invited to share up to six additional activities as well, for a total of eight​ activities. ​

Question:  There is some grumbling about the self-reported grades (too much work like the University of California application). Can you explain why you are expanding the application to allow for reporting of grades from freshman year forward and how this will actually benefit applicants and their school counselors? Do you know of schools planning to drop the transcript requirement during the application phase in favor of depending on self-reported grades?

Answer:  ​​I don’t think that the Coalition application will drive college and university behavior in that way — rather it is the institutions themselves that are driving the development of the Coalition application. ​​The reason that high school coursework and grades are included in the Profile is because the coalition platform is designed to help students have a keen sense of their academic performance throughout high school — grades are certainly a part of that. ​ For some member schools this​ ​self-reported ​information in the Profile section ultimately ​​becomes part of the student’s ​the application.

Question:  The coalition appears to be recommending a 500 to 540 word limit for the personal statement. I see that some members are setting their own limits. For example the University of Florida suggests that the personal statement submitted to that institution not exceed 500 words. Will these kinds of restrictions be noted on an application-by-application basis? And will the limits be enforced by software?

Answer:  Word limits will not be enforced by the software.

Question:  Online resumes or portfolios are very trendy. You have the Student Locker and the Common App has a partnership with ZeeMee. Can you speak to how the Locker is different and possibly less subject to outside curation/influence?  It occurs to me that ZeeMee is offering the opportunity to build an online resume while the Student Locker is mostly a storage facility with an opportunity for students to get feedback on specific items. Is that accurate?

Answer:  ​The Locker is not a portfolio. And, the Locker is not a component of a student’s college application. The Locker is secure place for students to maintain a record of what matters to them. The Locker is designed to allow students the opportunity to share those materials with a trusted adviser. There are many​ broad​ applications that I foresee — English teachers working on a personal writing unit with students, a Robotics instructor commenting on design features, a dean of students reviewing a draft of a student’s speech as they run for class president, or a place to keep a letter of recommendation from a service project coordinator.

Some member colleges are very excited about the Locker because it creates flexibility and opportunity for collecting new and different information in the application process in a way that doesn’t impose greater pressure on students.

Question:  Will the Coalition application include the ability for students to link to online media similar to that which the Universal College Application has provided for years? This would be a question or “field” enabling a student to provide a “live” link to a website or YouTube video or whatever.

Answer:  This type of question may be included within the institution specific questions. Students can attach media to their Locker which can then be imported to the application and therefore shared with colleges.

Question: Will the Coalition application “roll over” from year-to-year? If yes, what information will the Coalition roll over? Along these same lines, some counselors have asked if information in the Student Locker will be available for export to other applications (including online job or internship applications and/or scholarship applications).  For some, this is very important if students are going to store valuable documents and materials in the Student Locker that they hope to be able to use after they are in college.

Answer:  ​The profile section of the Coalition platform is dynamic. Students will be encouraged to update their profile as they advance throughout high school. The Locker does not have an “end date.” We are glad that students will continue to have access to their Locker for a variety of reasons, but particularly as we think about students who will transfer institutions.

Question:  Is it true that if a student registers for one CollegeNET application, they have registered for all? In other words, if a student registers for an application provided by a school outside of the Coalition network, the account will carry over to other CollegeNET applications (password etc.) both within the network and outside of the network, and the basic registration information will be prepopulated onto those applications. Could you clarify how this exchange of information will work and what information will carry over?

Answer:  The same basic, registration credentials can be used for all CollegeNET applications, these fields include name, email address and date of birth.

Question:  Will the Coalition Application automatically hide test scores from member colleges that are test optional or test flexible? How will this happen?

Answer:  Individual colleges and universities make the decision about whether or not to require the testing portion of the profile. If they require it, then the student can import their self-reported scores directly into the application. If an individual institution does not require scores, they will not receive that data.

As I mentioned in reference to self-reported grades, I think that it is important to think of the profile beyond the application — it’s a resource for students to capture the whole of their secondary school experience (including scores).

Question:  Will you be providing “live” support to students and/or counselors? In addition to submitting written questions to a help desk, what kinds of “real time” support will you be offering?

Answer:  CollegeNet will provide technical support to students through their Help Desk. The Help Desk will be staffed from 6 a.m. Pacific to 6 p.m. Pacific Monday through Friday. They will add Sunday support in September. They will also staff until midnight around key deadline periods.  ​CollegeNet will forward any Coalition or institution-specific questions to the Coalition to generate responses. There will not be phone or “live” online support.

Question:  I understand that a committee has been assigned to investigate ways the Coalition can expand its membership. Could you give me some of the possible changes in membership criteria that the group will be voting on in September? I hear that as many as 300 additional colleges may qualify as a result of these changes. Is that correct?

Answer:  Last fall, (as it was publicly announced) the Coalition created a Membership Task Force chaired by Zina Evans, of the University of Florida, and William Fitzsimmons, of Harvard University, to investigate membership criteria. The recommendation from the task force was shared at our membership meeting on June 13 and is currently under consideration by member schools.

 

 

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