There’s a new college application on the block! The COALITION FOR ACCESS, AFFORDABILITY AND SUCCESS

A new college application

There’s a new college application on the block! A group of 90+ selective universities (mostly wealthy, prestigious schools, including all eight Ivy League institutions) joined together as the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success (CAAS) and are in the process of creating its own application system. As if the college-application process weren’t confusing enough with several application choices – the Common Application (accepted by 600+ universities, including all eight Ivy League institutions and most Coalition members), the Universal College Application (accepted by almost 50 colleges, including three of the Ivies), and colleges’ own applications – the new CAAS Application is debuting this summer. We anticipate that the number of Coalition institutions will grow.

Coalition membership

To be a member of the Coalition, colleges must have a stable, 70% 6-year graduation rate (most public universities don’t have graduation rates that high). Public universities must have “affordable” in-state tuition for residents of their state, and private schools must have a commitment to meet the full, demonstrated financial need of admitted domestic students. (There isn’t a clear definition yet for “affordable.”)

The Coalition tools

The Coalition says that their new college planning and application tools will streamline the admissions and financial aid processes and allow students to begin planning for college much earlier in high school. There are three web-based “tools” that seek to recast the process of applying to college as the culmination of a student’s high-school development:

  • The Locker

  • The Collaboration Platform

  • The Application

The Locker and Collaboration Platform – both free – will open to high school freshmen, sophomores, and juniors next month.

  • The Locker offers a private space for students to collect and organize materials throughout their high school years, similar to Google Drive or DropBox, but customized for students. Think of the Locker as a personal portfolio where a student can confidentially save documents and videos that may be useful later in the college search or application. Here are a few examples of what a student might save:

  • A personal journal

  • A list of part-time jobs and summer work held since 9th grade

  • A video of last year’s robotics competition

  • A few notable photographs from a service project

  • Essays and graded writing samples reflecting the student’s best work

  • A science research paper

  • Audio recording from a music performance

  • Senior project video

  • Art presentation

  • Letters of recommendation

  • While only students will have access to the Locker, they will be able to share documents with counselors, teachers, community organizers, and mentors who can provide guidance along the way – or they may choose to share nothing. Colleges could, at a student’s invitation, provide feedback as early as freshman year of high school. Finally, a student may choose to attach materials from the Locker to his or her CAAS Application; however, colleges will neither have access to nor the ability to review the Locker.

  • The Collaboration Platform will be an online meeting place where a student can invite counselors, teachers, and mentors to provide feedback on materials in his or her Locker. Trusted advisors, such as a high-school or private college counselor, will be able to monitor a student’s progress, provide advice on required courses, and advise on application steps – all at the student’s invitation. The Collaboration Platform will also allow students and counselors to contact their partners at Coalition schools, facilitating communication and eliminating confusion.

The Coalition Application

The CAAS Application is expected to be a cutting-edge tool for applying to Coalition colleges. It will feature a modern, intuitive interface available on computer, tablet, and smart phone. The application’s design is meant to minimize student stress and confusion while allowing universities to ask questions that will reveal students with the greatest potential fit for their campuses.

Like the Common Application, there will be some factual information that students will enter only once (e.g., name, high school, etc.). But once an applicant hits short answers or essay or other sections, each college presents its own unique questions. The idea is to link many of the questions to material that applicants will have stored in their Lockers, so applicants are not scrambling for ideas on essays but rather relying on archived, accessible work they did in high school.

Many of the Coalition schools will accept the CAAS Application beginning this summer, and a few of them are expected to be “exclusive” users – including the U of Florida. In other words, the U of Florida will no longer have its own application; rather, it will rely exclusively on the CAAS Application. Additional details about the application process will be announced later.

Which application to use?

We do not anticipate any change to the way colleges will evaluate an applicant. The flexibility of the CAAS Application will allow colleges to ask questions that uphold the distinctiveness of their institutions, and students may be able to submit creative entries such as videos or artwork for schools that accept them. However, there are no increased expectations for students. Colleges using the CAAS Application will neither expect nor require the use of other Coalition tools; the tools are solely for the benefit and convenience of the student. There will be no admissions advantage to using the CAAS Application over the Common Application or any other application. Just as many colleges accept either the SAT or ACT and have no preference as to which test is used, institutions will not prefer one application system over the other.

High school counselor portal view

The Coalition is creating a portal that will allow a designated counselor from a student’s high school to see every college in the student’s college list, whether it is a Coalition school or not. The counselor will also be able to see the application status for the student’s CAAS Applications. A counselor is able to view data in aggregate – such as how many students in this high school are applying to particular colleges – as well as view an individual student record – and hone in on that. For example, a counselor will be able to see when a student adds a college to his or her list, starts an application to a particular Coalition college, and completes that application.

Coalition goals

The hope of the Coalition colleges is that students will use the Coalition tools in these ways:

  1. to begin planning for college as early as freshman year

  2. to better understand and express themselves

  3. to help them emerge in as seniors with a body of work that can be used to help identify appropriate colleges and apply to them

Organizers of the new effort hope to minimize some disadvantages faced by high school students without access to well-staffed guidance offices or private counselors. In fact, some institutions joined the Coalition because of the opportunity in this new approach to interact much earlier with low-income students, and to help them prepare for admission. Seth Allen, vice president and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Pomona College, is one of the Coalition organizers. He said the Coalition’s ambition is to “serve students who don’t have the college-going resources” of wealthier students, and to create a communication system so that others “can act as a proxy for a counselor asking the right questions.” The Coalition hopes to attract more students from disadvantaged backgrounds; members believe that the Locker could help more of them envision college in their future and present their own talents in ways that might win them admission. However, we think that students who take advantage of the new Coalition tools will be wealthier students with access to excellent school-based or private college counselors.

Coalition members

With goals that are ambitious, the colleges participating in this campaign have resources and clout. These colleges include every Ivy League university, Stanford University and the U of Chicago; liberal arts colleges such as Amherst, Swarthmore, and Williams Colleges; and leading public institutions such as the Universities of Florida, Michigan, North Carolina (Chapel Hill), and Virginia.

Here’s the full membership list as of early March, 2016.

How can you get started?

Go to and register for a new account. You’ll then be able to create your profile – which you can change at any time – connect with your high school, and build your college list. Starting next month, you’ll be able to store things in your Locker. In July, you’ll be able to begin working on your Coalition applications.

You can find additional information about the Coalition in the attached PowerPoint.

P.S. Will the CAAS Application be a challenge to the Common App?

Many admissions leaders who once raved about the Common Application stopped doing so in fall 2013, when the Common App introduced a new software system that resulted in numerous glitches and system crashes that prevented applicants from submitting their applications on time. Students, guidance counselors and college admissions deans all complained not only about the problems, but what they perceived as a slow response from the Common Application. Many also started talking about how the Common Application represented a “single point of failure” in admissions technology, since many institutions had no other way to accept applications. (Several Coalition members say they welcome an alternative to the Common Application and view the CAAS Application as creating “another pathway” for students to college.) Additionally, the Coalition has partnered with CollegeNET to produce their platform of tools. CollegeNET, a Portland-based technology developer, has been involved in ongoing litigation with the Common Application. So you tell me, is a battle brewing, akin to the test war between the College Board and ACT?

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