Current high schoolers who, in the preliminary phases of their college search process, encounter The Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success are often a tad confused. To some, it sounds a bit like a collection of anime superheroes whose translation to English went awry. Others are perplexed by its wordy, bureaucratic flare which feels reminiscent of a now defunct Soviet ministry.

Yet “The Coalition” (we’ll abbreviate), is something all future college applicants need to fully understand. Beginning in July, 2016, The Coalition’s new application platform, called the Coalition Application, will open its virtual doors. So, what exactly does this mean? In short, the Common App, which is currently used by almost 700 post-secondary institutions is being phased out and gradually replaced by the Coalition App at many but not all top-tier schools.

Similar to the Common App, this new platform allows for much of the required general applicant information to be entered en masse in order to help streamline the process for students applying to multiple schools. However, there will be some significant, process-altering and philosophical differences which we will detail in this blog. Members of the Class of 2017 who will be applying to some of the nation’s most competitive and prestigious schools will find themselves as potential guinea pigs in this grand experiment. What follows is everything you need to know in order to be prepared.

Which schools are participating?

The Coalition is not inviting just anyone to the dinner party. Guests are required to have a six-year graduation rate of over 70%. Further, only private colleges that meet 100% of student need and public institutions that have affordable tuition and a strong financial aid track record may join.

With such daunting exclusionary criteria, the current guest list is primarily comprised of elites such as every Ivy, Stanford, Swarthmore, Amherst, and so-called public Ivies such as UNC, UVA, and Michigan. Of the 93 current member schools, most are in this same elite vein. In fact, a perusal of the complete member list reveals only a handful of schools that don’t fall into the highly-selective category (i.e. the University of South Carolina, UCONN, and the University of Iowa).

Why was it developed?

The Coalition, as their unabbreviated name indicates, is seeking to increase access and affordability to lower-income students. This is a noble goal and one that is long overdue as higher education statistics tell us that only 14% of students attending highly selective schools in the U.S. come from American families whose income is in the bottom-half of all earners. As you move from the middle class into the lower-middle class and families below the poverty line, that number only shrivels further. Whether this new format will do anything to actually level the economic playing field has yet to be determined.

How is it different than the Common App?

In addition to promoting a more egalitarian process, the Coalition App also seeks to erode the uniformity and non-holistic feel that characterizes the Common App. The biggest change in this regard is the advent of an online portfolio where students can post written work and video content as soon as they begin high school.

The intent of the portfolio is three-fold:

  1. Students may begin the application in 9th grade, allowing them to receive feedback from counselors, admissions officers, or even helpful community members throughout their high school years. This is designed to help more lower-income students who are more likely to attend a school lacking a college-going culture better ready themselves for admission into a competitive institution. For example, an admissions officer could conceivably reach out to potential applicant and recommend they take a 4th year of science to stay competitive with the rest of the applicant pool.
  2. Students will be asked to conjure up fewer essays purely for admissions purposes and will instead be able to submit actual work samples from their high school career to prospective colleges. While the efficiency of writing one common app essay for a dozen colleges will be gone, students will, at least theoretically, be able to cull together existing works to address a variety of different topics required by Coalition schools.
  3. Students can post video and other multimedia content that shows-off their extracurricular skills or other talents—again, a more holistic picture of themselves.

Potential issues

Some worry that allowing students to begin the application in their freshman year only exacerbates the admissions craze. Additionally, “Access” may also prove to be an ironic word choice as the vast majority of the 93 member colleges and universities are highly selective schools with small-to-minuscule admissions rates.

Do I have to use the Coalition App?

Fear not, if this all sounds intimidating and not ultimately helpful to your admissions cause, you can still apply through the Common App. At least for now, all Coalition members will accept either the Coalition App or the more traditional Common App. It is important to note that the Coalition makes clear on their website that no advantage will be granted to those who apply using any particular platform at this time.

The Bottom Line:

Students who are still a few years away from applying to college may very well not have the luxury of avoiding the Coalition App. Many speculate that the portfolio will one day be mandatory as the newly-launched platform gains its footing. Therefore, we recommend that students currently entering 9th or 10th grade who have their eyes on elite colleges begin at least archiving the best examples of their academic work.

Those nearing the end of high school do not need to worry about changing course midstream just to utilize the Coalition App. However, if you feel a more holistic approach to the admissions process would help you, then this route is very much worth exploring. 

Dave Bergman
Dave has over a decade of professional experience that includes work as a teacher, high school administrator, college professor, and independent education consultant. He is a co-author of the book The Enlightened College Applicant: A New Approach to the Search and Admissions Process (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016).