New admissions program enables students to create ‘digital lockers’

Republished with permission from the Los Altos Town Crier. Originally appeared in the October 14, 2015 edition. – Article Link

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Hey, Common Application, move over. You are no longer the only game in town for a one-stop college application system.

While the Universal College App has been around for a while, the newly introduced Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success is creating waves for college admissions officers, high school counselors and independent educational consultants. It is only a matter of months before students and their families will begin navigating it as well.

Originally created in response to the Common App upgrade debacle for the Class of 2014, where application glitches plagued the admissions season, the Coalition updated its mission to target access and motivate a stronger college-going mindset for low-income and first-generation students, starting with freshman year of high school. While aimed at these specific demographics, the platform will be accessible to everyone.

Beginning in April, high school freshmen, sophomores and juniors will be encouraged to create a “virtual college locker” of their best work in digital documents and video. Students may share locker contents with others, including family, community members, teachers or counselors.

Approximately 80 colleges currently are participating in the Coalition. Member universities must adhere to the following qualifications.

• Six-year graduation rates must exceed 70 percent.

• The schools must be public universities with affordable tuition and financial aid for students in need or be private universities meeting full, demonstrated financial need for domestic students.

• Private universities can be “need aware,” meaning that a student’s ability to pay may impact admissibility.

The Coalition has not provided guidelines on how a specific university defines “meeting full demonstrated financial need.” For example:

• Most use PROFILE to dive deeper into family finances – usually reducing the amount a family can qualify for, based on financial measurements beyond the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This may include 401(k)/IRA and home equity.

• Some schools require a $5,000 contribution from students for “summer work,” even if the student is not employed over the summer.

• Many use loans to bridge need.

College officials have publicly stated that they will be moving away from merit aid (typically given to families who don’t qualify for financial aid) toward funding more students with financial need to adhere to the “meet 100 percent of need” policy.

While today the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success is a press announcement and a website of vague FAQs, its scheduled release date is quickly approaching and raises questions.

• Work a freshman finds excellent may be different by senior year. Will they be judged if they remove it or will it be reviewed in context?

• Freshman and sophomore years of high school should be for exploration and learning, not college applications. Does this new four-year process potentially turn all of high school into a college application process?

• How much work should be done when younger students have no idea where they want to apply or if they qualify for the member schools?

• Local high schools and independent educational consultants spend a lot of time trying to reduce stress. Will creating this locker ratchet up the intensity and stress about college, starting freshman year?

• What counseling should a student receive to create a cohesive, excellent portfolio?

• Will students who choose the Common App over the portfolio be at an admissions disadvantage during the actual application submission?

A portfolio of best work is a terrific idea that can be used to build a great academic picture. It is simple to build a locker using a scanner and Google Docs or Dropbox to capture best work in digital form. Then, as a senior preparing to apply to college, the student can choose which work to present.

The Coalition platform originally planned to go live in January. After a huge outcry from high school counselors and independent educational consultants regarding the impact on students, officials announced last week that they are delaying the rollout until April to address problems and concerns.

Speak to a counselor to determine the specific approach for each student.

For more information, visit coalitionforcollegeaccess.org.

Hollis Bischoff is college admissions adviser for Strategies 4 Admission LLC. She earned a graduate certificate in college and career counseling from UCLA and is a Certified Educational Planner. She blogs about college admissions at strategies4admission.com/blog and tweets at @collegeunlocked. For more information, email hollis@strategies4admission.com.

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