Dear Class of 2017, if you thought the Redesigned SAT was the only new wrench being thrown at you in the college admissions process, think again. Last week, a group of about 80 prestigious colleges and universities, including all of the Ivies, Stanford, UChicago, prominent liberal arts colleges such as Williams, Swarthmore, and Amherst, and top public universities including Michigan, UVA, and UNC announced the release of a new college application: the Coalition Application.
This is MAJOR college admissions news. For over 40 years, the Common Application has existed as the primary multi-school application. With over 600 colleges and universities as members, the Common Application is an application that most students currently use for at least some of their college list. And now it has a competitor.
So let’s take a look at some of the most common questions swirling around out there right now about the Coalition Application, and we will keep you updated right here on the latest developments regarding how you can prepare for it!
Why was the Coalition Application created?
The group who created the Coalition (formally known as the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success) has the goal of improving access to college, so it hopes that the application will be beneficial to underrepresented students and students in need of financial aid. In order to join the Coalition, colleges must meet the financial need of all students they admit and have a 70% graduation rate. (There’s plenty of controversy about this, but we are not going to tackle that in this post. We’re operating under the assumption that the Coalition App is here to stay, and our goal is to make sure students are prepared for it!)
Most people also believe the Coalition is a reaction to what some see as the shortcomings of the Common Application. In 2013, the Common App suffered numerous technical difficulties that frustrated students, colleges, admissions officers, and counselors. Many colleges, as well, are dissatisfied with the “monopoly” that is the Common App and want an alternative.
What is different about the Coalition Application?
The key word here is “portfolio.” The coalition will provide students with an online “college locker” that they can begin stuffing with material starting in ninth grade. The portfolio could include examples of their best work, essays, descriptions of activities, and so on. Students can choose which parts of the portfolio they want to share with colleges and can also share it with colleges and advisors throughout their high school career to get feedback. The idea is to help students plan for college early rather than in the fall of senior year. Standardized test scores and high school transcripts will still play an important role for schools that consider them, but rather than admissions essays, it’s going to be portfolio work that students use to round out their application.
Colleges will also have more flexibility to customize their application with the Coalition App than they do with the Common App; in many cases, this might create more work (or opportunity, depending on how you look at it) for students who will have additional school-specific questions, even videos, to submit to some colleges.
Will Colleges and Universities still accept the Common Application?
Yes. As of right now, the Coalition Application is launching as an alternative to the Common Application or a school’s individual application, and basically all of the Coalition Application members are Common App members as well. This, of course, begs the question of how schools are going to compare students who apply under the two different systems, which remains to be seen.
When will the Coalition Application be available?
The portfolio is scheduled to launch for student use in April 2016 (Note: this is a change from earlier reports that stated a January 2016 launch for the online portfolio) and the application will be available in the summer of 2016, meaning students will be able to use it for applications as soon as next fall.
Who is the Coalition Application best for?
There’s a ton of debate out there about whether or not the Coalition Application will best serve the students it is purportedly designed for–underrepresented students–or the students who have the support and means to develop polished, professional-looking portfolios. Regardless, as things stand right now, it does seem that the Coalition Application is best suited for students who do well in school–who have worked hard on their papers and projects both in and out of school and would like these things to stand for them on the application rather than a gimmicky essay or a padded resume. (Of course, not all admissions essays are gimmicky and not all resumes are padded, but if you are one of those students who criticize college applications for that reason, maybe the Coalition App is a better option for you).
Because it is so new, and you also have that New SAT thing to contend with, personally I wouldn’t recommend the Coalition Application to many current juniors (although there certainly might be exceptions, including those who already have an impressive catalog of work they can pull together for a portfolio.) It remains to be seen, however, whether it will work to students’ advantage or not to be one of the first in the system. It’s a gamble. To be fair, I haven’t seen the app yet, so I’ll update this post if I change my tune :).
How can I get started on my Coalition Application?
If you are a freshman, sophomore, or junior now, you can start locating copies of your best work and gather them together now so you are ready for the portfolio when it launches. Get feedback from parents, teachers, and counselors on what materials best illustrates your capabilities as a student. And most importantly, think of everything you do in school from now on as a possible portfolio piece for colleges. But again, don’t panic, no one is going to be obliged to complete the Coalition Application right now. If this sounds like too much for you, stay the course, plan for your Common App, and we will see how this all develops.
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About Kristin Fracchia
Dr. Kristin Fracchia currently focuses on our MCAT and LSAT Prep, but she also has expertise in a wide range of standardized tests, including the ACT, SAT, GRE, and GMAT, as well as college and grad school admissions. With a PhD from UC Irvine and degrees in Education and English, she’s been working in education since 2004. She enjoys the agony and bliss of long distance trail running, backpacking, hot yoga, and esoteric knowledge.
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