Elite Colleges Announce Common App Alternative

The Sumner Hall Admissions plaque.
Sumner Hall houses Pomona College’s Admissions Office. (​Sarah Grazel-Ward • The Student Life)

Pomona College and Claremont McKenna College are two of the 83 colleges and universities that are part of the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success, which announced on Sept. 28 that it would create a new application system as an alternative to the Common Application.

The Coalition includes a large number of both private and public institutions, including many top liberal arts colleges, all eight Ivy Leagues, and many public flagship universities. Pomona’s administration, particularly Vice President and Dean of Admissions Seth Allen, has been a leader in organizing the Coalition.

“Pomona was a part of a small conversation that turned into a larger conversation,” Pomona’s Director of Admissions Adam Sapp said. “As a leader in higher education in the United States, we really felt that Pomona needed to be at the table.”

According to the press release from the Coalition, its goals are to “recast the college admission process from something that is transactional and limited in time into a more engaged, ongoing and educationally reaffirming experience.”

Allen told Inside Higher Ed that the Coalition wants to create an application to “serve students who don’t have the college-going resources.”

Sapp said that the college wanted to encourage first-generation and low-income students to not be discouraged during the college application process.

“We recognize that [these students] may not have access to college counseling resources. The hope is that the tools in the Coalition toolkit will be the resources for students that don’t have them,” Sapp said.

The Coalition Application was first discussed after the technical failure of the Common App two years ago. Many colleges realized that the Common App was applicants’ only choice and concluded that there should be some alternative.

“The colleges were worried that they wouldn’t be able to get the applications in because the support from Common App just failed,” Pomona President David Oxtoby said.

In order to become a part of the Coalition, a school must have a six-year graduation rate of at least 70 percent. Public universities must offer affordable in-state tuition and need-based aid, while private universities must offer financial aid that meets the full demonstrated need for all accepted domestic students. The university does not need to practice need-blind acceptance, however.

Graphic by ​Mary Jane Coppock

The Coalition’s application will be free to all students and will include free tools and advice to help students start planning for college from their first year of high school. One of these planning tools will be an online digital locker, where students can upload any work that they are proud of and collect important information throughout their high school years. Students will also be able to share as much or as little of their locker with other people, and even some colleges, to get feedback. The application will also be more specific and better suited to each school.

“Right now, too much of the process is very last-minute, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but if you just wait until the last minute and then just do your application really quickly, it may not represent all of your best work,” Oxtoby said. “So, the idea is to start earlier, to start to build a portfolio and think earlier on about where you might be going to college. The goal is not to increase the pressure on students earlier in high school, it’s actually to spread things out so it doesn’t become a last-minute pressure of applying to colleges.”

Ashley Land PO ’16, president of Pomona Quest Scholars, said that although she likes the idea of the Coalition Application, she is unsure how low-income, first generation students will learn about it. She also suggested that the Application include information about the resources offered by different colleges, especially those that are less well known.

“Pomona has so many resources for low-income students like money for trips, conferences, internships, study abroad, things that have never been accessible before, and they’re not really advertised,” she said.

Some colleges have criticized the Coalition Application for being too complicated and argued that it will still favor wealthier students, saying that the application is “tailor-made” for schools where counselors do not have many students and for students that can hire college counselors. As an Oct. 5 article in Inside Higher Ed noted, critics have asserted that many colleges that serve low-income and minority students do not meet the criteria to join the Coalition.

Despite the backlash, the Coalition is preparing to release the first set of planning tools, which will be open to high school first-years, sophomores and juniors, next April. Pomona hopes to be ready to accept Coalition Applications by summer 2016.

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