A new coalition says they'll overhaul the college application process. Here's how.

High school students will be able to begin their portfolio in ninth grade

More than 80 selective colleges and universities have formed a coalition and created a new portfolio-based application system that they say will level the field for low-income students and reduce the stress of applying to college.

The new Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success includes the entire Ivy League, Stanford University, Williams College, and other elite institutions. The coalition says it expects more schools to join as well.

The schools' plan to allow students to heavily customize their applications would reverse a long trend of colleges and universities encouraging standardized applications, like the Common Application.

The case for scrapping the college application process

Details of the plan

The new system will consist of three main parts, Scott Jaschik writes at Inside Higher Ed.

1. The portfolio
High school students may begin adding examples of their work, short essays, and descriptions of extracurricular activities to their personal portfolios in ninth grade.

2. Pre-application interactions
Students may share their portfolios with various people and request advice. This may take the form of seeking feedback from a community organizer or even from a college before the application process begins.

3. The actual application system
Some parts of the application—such as standardized test scores, address information, and high school transcripts—may only need to be filled out once. Other sections, such as the essays, will vary from school to school and interact with the portfolio section.

"The idea isn't about how you should pad your resume, but about how you should have significant experiences as part of your education," says Pamela Horne, VP for enrollment management at coalition member Purdue University.

CollegeNet is building the portfolio and application system. The company will likely charge a per-applicant fee eventually. 

Want to know if applicants will succeed? Try giving them a personality quiz.

Who can join

The coalition is open to institutions that have a six-year graduation rate of at least 70%.

Additionally, public colleges must offer need-based aid and affordable tuition for in-state students.  And private schools must "provide sufficient financial aid to meet the full, demonstrated financial need of every domestic student they admit."

Reaching low-income students

The new system will allow institutions to interact with low-income students early on in their high school career.

It may even enable parties to "act as a proxy for a counselor asking the right questions" and encourage students on their academic pursuits, says Seth Allen, VP and dean of admissions and financial aid at Pomona College. Allen also served as a coalition organizer.

"This is going to be a way to level the playing field," Pomona president David Oxtoby told the Washington Post.

The portfolio may help low-income students better envision a future at college and allow them to present their talents in ways that earn them admission, says Matthew Proto, VP and dean of admissions and financial aid at Colby College (Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed, 9/27; Anderson, "Grade Point," Washington Post, 9/28).

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