The Wait is Over: 58 Colleges and Universities Are Using the Coalition Application This Fall!
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The wait is over for College Applicants across the nation
The wait is over for College Applicants across the nation

The Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success, a group of more than 90 schools committed to introducing a new alternative to the Common App, has released a timeline for when different schools will move to the Coalition App. Altogether, 56 schools will begin accepting the Coalition App for the 2016/2017 application cycle while the remaining 38 members will move to the new application in 2017/2018.

Many schools, like Harvard, are adding the Coalition App as an additional choice for the 2016/2017 application season but will continue accepting other formats like the Common App. A few, like University of Washington, are moving exclusively to the Coalition App this year.

With the Coalition also releasing this year’s essay prompts, a clearer picture is starting to emerge of what students and parents should expect for next year. How much the new Coalition App affects your college applications will depend on what schools you end up applying to. Here’s what you should know heading into application season.

What Is the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success?

The Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success is a group of prominent colleges and universities that unveiled plans to introduce a shared application in fall of last year. As the name implies, the group is concerned with making college more accessible to people from different backgrounds.

In line with this goal, the Coalition requires that member institutions have a six-year graduation rate of 70 percent. It also requires schools to meet accepted students’ demonstrated need, although schools do not have to have need-blind admissions processes.

One of the innovations of the Coalition Application is that students maintain a portfolio they can begin adding material to as early as ninth grade. Students are the only ones who can review their portfolios, but they can select items to share with counselors or colleges. The intent behind this feature is to help students begin collecting materials for college applications earlier in high school so they are more prepared by the time they reach senior year.

The Coalition App also gives member schools more flexibility in terms of how they use the application. For example, a given school might decide to replace one of the essay questions with a portfolio item. Lack of flexibility was a point of contention colleges had with the Common Application, and the Coalition App will give schools more control over what they collect from applicants.

One hope for the Common App is that this flexibility will give applicants room to focus on their unique strengths. If they’re drawing on portfolio items rather than simply writing more essays, students might be able to tailor their application to better represent their individual interests.

That’s the theory, anyway. In practice, it’s going to depend on how schools use the Coalition App and how students use their portfolios, two question marks that remain over the Coalition App experiment.

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How Will the Coalition App Affect Those Applying in 2016?

With first the new SAT, then the Coalition App, it’s understandable if anyone applying to schools this year feels a little like a college admissions guinea pig! The truth is, though, that the Coalition App represents a fairly minimal change for this year’s applicants. As long as you know what to expect, the switch probably won’t have a radical effect on how you approach the admissions process.

The first thing to find out is whether the schools you’re applying to are even using the Coalition App this year. You can find a list of which schools are adopting the new application when here.

If you are applying to some schools that are on the Coalition App for 2016/2017, the next question is whether they’re only on the Coalition App. Many schools are continuing to accept the Common App as an alternative to the Coalition App although some are keeping it simple and going all in on the Coalition App.

As far as deciding between the Common App and the Coalition App, the basic content of the two applications isn’t so different. When it comes to the essay prompts, both applications are trying to find out more about your overall personality and ability to overcome adversity.

For example, here’s a question from the Coalition App:

Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.

And here’s one from the Common App:

The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

Still, while they’re similar, they’re still different essay prompts, so it’s worth a look through both the Coalition App and Common App essay questions.

One difference is that the Coalition App has a “Submit an essay on a topic of your choice” essay prompt. This is in keeping with the theme that the Coalition App is likely to give a little more flexibility to both schools and students.

Since schools can customize the Coalition App as they wish and accept portfolio items as well as essays, you’ll want to look at the version of the Coalition App for each school you’re interested in to get the specific requirements. Generally, if you’re the kind of applicant who feels you’d benefit from a more flexible application that allows different aspects of your work and personality to shine through rather than an application consisting of more traditional college admissions essays, you may find the Coalition App is the way to go.

Of course, 2016/2017 applicants will miss out on one of the defining features of the Coalition Application: the option to build a portfolio over the course of your time in high school. Overall, this year’s cohort will experience the Coalition App as a slightly modified Common App, with different essay questions and a little more flexibility.

How Will the Coalition App Affect Those Applying in 2017/2018 and Beyond?

With the remaining Coalition schools scheduled to introduce the new application next year, the Coalition App will likely become an established part of the admissions process. It’s possible that more schools will join the Coalition or that more Coalition schools will stop accepting other applications, making the Coalition App even more prevalent.

Unlike this year’s applicants, students applying in future years can take full advantage of the Coalition’s portfolio feature, and they can start doing so now if they want – the Locker, as the Coalition calls it, is already up and running.

Another feature of the centralized collection of portfolio materials provided by the Coalition App is the Collaboration Space, which lets students share work with third parties like counselors and teachers for editing and feedback.

The main difference for future applicants, then, is that they can use the Coalition’s tools to start pooling files for their college applications now as well as sharing those files with others.

Where’s This All Headed?

Like other recent changes to the college admissions process, the Coalition App has inspired controversy. For example, some believe the option to build a portfolio starting in ninth grade will bring people from underrepresented groups into the application process earlier while others argue it will only add stress to the admissions process and favor students who already have access to more resources.

Many questions about how the Coalition Application will work can only be answered through several years of trial and error. It’s also possible the answer will turn out to be that the new application isn’t too much different from the Common App at all, either for better or for worse. In the meantime, students and parents are left with one option: adapt now, and see what happens later!

Attention Rising Seniors:

Your consultant will go through an additional training to be fully prepared in using this application during this upcoming college application season. The factors to whether or not your consultant will recommend using the CAAS will be based on a number of variables including but not limited to the following: student’s academic performance (grade trends), strength in writing skills, and number of valuable extracurricular activities and/or format of activities.

Please talk to your consultant to see if the new application is right for you.