College Waits to Join National Coalition

Kristina Rodriguez ’19, Staff Writer

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Dickinson will wait to join more than 80 schools nationwide comprising the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success, a federation of colleges and universities developing a new college admissions platform that will be a more individualized alternative to the Common Application.

The Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success announced on Oct. 1 that it would make an alternative platform for college admissions available to students by January 2016. This new application would look like a portfolio of a high school student’s academic and extracurricular career over all four years of high school. The online portfolio is called the “virtual college locker” and students can begin to compile work, including video content, written work and visual art, as early as their first year in high school.

Stephanie Niles, vice president for Enrollment, Communication and Marketing, said that Dickinson would not join the coalition until administrators are sure that the new application is effective and that it would be compatible with Dickinson’s applicants. Niles is concerned that the new application will exclude schools that are already successful in recruiting under served students, and that those students that the Coalition most wants to reach will be the least likely to benefit from the application.

“I am concerned that the criteria stated by the Coalition to join its ranks leaves out many of the schools who currently do best serve and provide access to students from disadvantaged backgrounds,” Niles said. “Those students without access to strong counseling departments and resources who can best help them prepare for college are the very students the Coalition schools most want to reach, but who are least likely to have the guidance to navigate – and even know about – this new application process.”

Niles is also doubtful of how effective it would be to have ninth and tenth grade students begin to think about college “when their primary focus should be on having a solid high school experience and getting to know and understand their strengths and weaknesses.”

Like Niles, many college counselors believe the first year of high school puts too much pressure on students to begin to think about the college application process. However, other counselors view this as a way to make the process run more smoothly for students because instead of being stressed about what they should include in their college essays and applications, they will feel more prepared and confident transitioning from their junior year in high school to senior year.

“When [students] get to their junior year there isn’t this terror, ‘Oh my God it’s time to apply to college,’” said James G. Nondorf, Coalition president and dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at the University of Chicago, in an Oct. 26 New York Times article. “They are looking at their portfolios and say ‘I’m ready for this.’”

Members of the Coalition have stated that they would still accept the Common App, but the application process is going more and more towards the digital age. Some schools are expecting to see videos, or some form of creativity collected from these online portfolios to get a better sense of who these student applicants are, as well as what makes them who they are. This could perhaps even become a replacement of certain supplemental essays.

In addition to the challenges of reaching disadvantaged students and encouraging a healthy balance of personal development and college preparation in high school, Niles also anticipates technical glitches with the launch of the Coalition application, pointing to the 2013 crash of the redesigned Common Application as an example. Niles said that Dickinson would wait to see how the Coalition responds to these challenges before making a decision to join.

“I believe that seeing how [the Coalition] works through these challenges… is in our best interest so that we are sure that joining this group is the right step for us and for our applicants,” Niles said.