Counselors express concern over admissions coalition

by Megan Clyne | 11/12/15 11:04pm

In late September, the College announced that it would join the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success, which has prompted mixed responses from college counseling offices across the country. The Coalition offers a platform that will serve as an alternative to the Common App by allowing students to create a digital portfolio over the course of their high school experience.

College counseling offices and high schools have expressed their concerns surrounding the Coalition.

“One of our chief concerns is the speed at which this rollout is taking place,” Maura Brennan, director of college counseling at the Fordham Preparatory School, said.

There seems to be a push to get the Coalition online next year, which does not allow for much time to adjust foreseeable difficulties, Brennan said.

There is also a worry that students from low-income areas are not coming from schools that have the resources to let them know about the Coalition in the first place, Brennan said.

Paul Sunde, interim dean of admissions and financial aid, said that the root of the concern from college counselors about the Coalition is two-fold. The different elements of the Coalition — such as the virtual locker and collaboration platform — can be confusing for people to understand, he said.

He said there is also a concern about many transitions to the college process this upcoming year.

These changes include alterations to the SAT and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Sunde heard from college counselors that students may feel the need to add things to their lockers in anticipation that colleges will want to see them.

In response, he said that the locker belongs to the student, not the college. Anything that is in the locker, the student controls, he said.

The National Association for College Admission Counseling and the College Board both hosted conferences to address these concerns.

“I think there is a very healthy conversation at this point among Coalition members and college counselors,” Sunde said.

Senior director of media relations at the University of Florida Steve Orlando said the Coalition provides a digital portfolio for students who come from backgrounds not conducive to the college mindset to collect and store their awards, essays and videos. The University of Florida is a Coalition member.

Director of public affairs at the University of Chicago Marielle Sainvilus said that the portfolio is an optional resource — one of the many valid pathways to get to college — that affords students the opportunity to take away any barriers preventing them from seeking higher education. The University of Chicago is also a Coalition member.

“Education is not valued by all families,” Orlando said.

The hope is that students from low-income families, perhaps in which some or all members have not gone to college, can compile all the information they will need when they start to apply to college.

The whole idea is that colleges want to do more to support students as they apply, Sunde said.

“If we can help students make the most of their opportunities in high school, we can help them prepare to be successful applicants to college,” Sunde said.

Sainvilus hopes that the Coalition will relieve anxiety by making the path to college more clear for students by avoiding the rushed senior year transaction because the purpose of the Coalition is to allow students to begin collecting relevant application materials starting as early as their freshman year.

“Our goal is to say, ‘Yes, college is for you,’” Sainvilus said.

The member schools participating in the Coalition have high graduation rates, offering students the opportunity to get into a college where their chances of success will be better, Orlando said.

Orlando said starting to prepare for college during freshman year does not detract from the overall high school experience, as students are already thinking about college anyway.

Sainvilus said the Coalition is not going to take over the Common Application.

“We expect most Coalition member schools that accept the Common Application to continue to do so,” Sainvilus said.

Besides the concerns over the application process, Brennan said that to ask freshmen to start building a resume and locker of assignments is not developmentally what high schools should want students to be doing. She said students should be focused on enjoying high school rather than stressed about applying to college early on.