High schoolers have a new college application tool

This year, the college application process is getting a bit of a makeover, thanks to a new online platform developed by a group of more than 90 selective universities across the country.

The platform was created to “transform” the application experience by equipping students with a set of free tools that guide them through the college search process and allow them to create a portfolio of their work, customize their applications and get feedback from teachers and friends, says Audrey Smith, vice president for enrollment at Smith College in Massachusetts.

Smith is part of the group, which calls itself the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success. Also on board: all eight Ivy League universities and about three dozen public universities, including Clemson University in South Carolina, Ohio State University–Columbus and the University of Florida.

The platform is also intended to improve college access for low-income students. To belong to the coalition, a private school must provide enough financial aid to meet the full demonstrated need of every U.S. student admitted, and a public must offer affordable tuition and need-based aid to in-state residents.

Schools also must graduate at least 70 percent of undergraduates within six years. So far, approximately 90 out of the 140 or so colleges and universities that meet these qualifications have joined.

Organizers of the coalition see their application portal as an alternative to, not a required replacement for, the Common Application, which is used by nearly 1 million applicants to 600-plus schools annually. A virtual “locker” will house students’ papers, projects, awards, videos, artwork and other materials in one place, similar to Google Drive or Dropbox.

[Get tips and advice on applying to college.]

Once a student has stored work in the locker, parents and teachers can be invited to take a look, share feedback and suggest whether the material might enhance an application. The hope is that this collaborative tool will give students who attend high schools without strong counseling programs a way to get helpful guidance, says Barbara Gill, associate vice president for enrollment management at the University of Maryland–College Park.

Students can start adding to their locker as early as ninth grade, a feature coalition leaders anticipate will inspire more top students from high-need schools to start planning for college sooner. Some critics, though, have raised concerns that ninth grade is too early to start worrying about college.

“We want to signal to these students that there are a lot of schools where they are welcome” and might get generous aid, says James Nondorf, coalition president and vice president for enrollment and student advancement at the University of Chicago. The online platform will offer tools and application tips to students who might not have access to college-prep courses, Smith says.

[Discover how to use all four years to prep for college.]

Once a student is ready to apply, the coalition platform will allow him to seamlessly import background details and required documents into an application, while also permitting him to elect which items get shared from the locker on a school-by-school basis. Someone applying to a competitive music program, for instance, might opt to submit a recording of a performance to one school but not to another.

The coalition will have a set of essay prompts that any school can use as part of its application requirements — “What is the hardest part of being a teenager now?” for example — but students will have to fulfill any extra requirements of a school and pay application fees for each; waivers may be available.

Teachers and counselors will upload recommendation letters to the portal, and applicants can choose which letters to send to which schools. You won’t be able to read the recs, however.

To learn more or to create an account and get started, visit coalitionforcollegeaccess.org. The coalition application opened in July, and more than 50 schools plan to start accepting it this fall.

This story is excerpted from the U.S. News “Best Colleges 2017” guidebook, which features in-depth articles, rankings and data.

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High Schoolers Have a New College Application Tool originally appeared on usnews.com

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