According to the coalition’s website, the new application system, which doesn’t have a name yet and launches next summer, is equipped with online tools designed to empower those students, in part by helping them find well-endowed colleges and encouraging them to hone their qualifications and admissions savvy throughout high school. This will set it apart from the Common Application, its most widely used counterpart, and protect students in case that system malfunctions—as it did in 2013. Some experts, however, are concerned that this platform will increase stress on students, make an already complicated process more opaque, and create another hurdle that can even perpetuate inequality.
The coalition started exploring the need for a new online application about two years ago, according to Jim Nondorf, who oversees admissions at the University of Chicago and is helping spearhead the initiative. That was the year the Common App was plagued with a number of technological glitches, including difficulties copying and pasting from Word documents and issues with the “Submit” button. “It was very challenging for us,” Nondorf said. “It created extra angst for students. We didn’t want to put students through that again.”
The admissions deans at several colleges, according to Nondorf, envisioned a system that would both benefit low-income students and foster innovation in the application process. The idea was to connect disadvantaged kids with affordable schools that serve successful students who graduate at high rates. “If you’re a first-generation student, this is a very daunting process,” Nondorf said. The new platform is designed to let these kinds of kids know: “Here’s a bunch of schools that want people like me.” Eventually, the coalition schools hope to leverage the new application system to give advice directly to students, particularly those who can’t otherwise turn to guidance counselors or parents.
The website was created by CollegeNet, a software company based in Portland, Oregon, that hasn’t yet charged schools for building the platform but will likely do so in the future via a per-applicant fee. Colleges in the coalition that currently use the Common App will accept both types of applications, and while students will still have to pay the standard fees for applying to schools—a little less than $40 on average—all the tools on the platform’s three components are free to use.
The first component is a digital portfolio, or “locker,” where students can upload examples of their work from high school, like English essays, and record information about club membership and sports participation. Students can input this information at any time during high school, so they’ll have easy access to it once they start applying to colleges; it isn’t automatically sent to those institutions. The process of curating these details may push students to reflect on their interests and goals, too. Many high schoolers already use a similar website, Naviance, which provides information about the requirements for the various colleges and allows parents and students to take note of their extracurricular activities and achievements throughout high school. However, because Naviance requires that high schools pay for its services, only 40 percent of students have access to the platform. The new website, according to the coalition, won’t have that kind of paywall.