Aug 15, 2016

Coalition exclusive—University of Florida goes live

The University of Florida will be Coalition "exclusive" for 2016-17

As promised on its website, the University of Florida went live this morning with the Coalition application. Originally one of three Coalition exclusive universities, Florida remains the sole institution among the membership to offer only the Coalition application for 2016-17. Both the University of Maryland College Park and the University of Washington will join Florida next year as exclusive users of the Coalition application.

For colleges, one of the selling points of the Coalition is the ability to create highly individualized applications while still taking advantage of membership in a group project designed to support students in the college admission process. Each member has the opportunity to choose what information they want from applicants and to decide how that information will be provided.

Some Coalition members, like Vanderbilt University, provide for uploading a resume from the Student Locker. And still others are requiring students to self-report standardized test scores, in an effort to save fees associated with official score reports.  Yale is asking students to “upload a document, image, audio file or video” stored in their Student Lockers.

For the University of Florida, the Coalition application is relatively straightforward document to complete. There are no uploads from the Student Locker—only a series of questions including some related to residency, community service and employment. The required personal statement cannot be uploaded from the Locker and must be either typed or copied and pasted within a text box. The application does not request recommendations or transcripts.  Instead, applicants are asked to complete a Student Self-reported Academic Record (SSAR), which is entirely independent of the Coalition application and used by several Florida-based institutions in addition to the University of Florida. And only some, but not all sections are imported onto the application from the Student Profile.

The University of Florida joins Union College, Yale University, Washington University and the University of Chicago as the most recent Coalition members to launch their Coalition applications.  While still members of the Coalition, the College of William and Mary and the University of Virginia recently decided to postpone launching their applications until next year. This leaves 53 colleges and universities planning to accept applications from the Coalition platform this fall, with 15 ready to go now.

Aug 13, 2016

Are colleges signaling application preferences?

Yale gave the Coalition an advantage by launching earlier than expected.

A long-standing agreement the Common Application has had with member colleges requires that in the event an institution offers multiple applications, that institution can show no preference in admission resulting from which application a student elects to use.  An applicant may only submit one application, and all are to be considered equally in the eyes of the admissions office.

In fact, the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) addresses this issue in its Statement of Principles of Good Practice (SPGP) by stating that all postsecondary members should

“…not discriminate in the admission selection process against applicants based on the particular application form they use, provided that the college or university has agreed explicitly to accept the particular version of the application;”

In other words, if a college offers the Common App along with the Universal College Application (UCA) and/or the Coalition Application and/or any other application—electronic or paper, the college or university agrees to show no favoritism.

Because colleges uniformly refuse to provide data on application outcomes vis-à-vis application products, there’s no way to test if a college shows preference for one product or another except anecdotally. But sometimes an admissions office will let slip a preference.

“We love the Universal College Application,” explained one admissions representative in an off-the-record conversation about the relative qualities of various products last year.  The comment was made in reference to quality of service and responsiveness to colleges.

Another Common App member might promote its own application during information sessions or suggest a demonstrated interest advantage through the use of the application they developed in-house.

Favoritism? Maybe, but these admissions offices would never admit it.

With the addition of the Coalition Application this year, students will have an even more complicated decision to make about which product to select, with some colleges offering as many as three or as in the case of Wake Forest University, four different ways to apply. It’s assumed students will use the product that best represents their credentials and is easiest for them to use.  But it’s complicated!

There appear to be a number of factors that could enter into this discussion. For example, the Common App boasts of nearly 700 members, and neither the UCA nor the Coalition can come close in terms of breadth of representation.  

On the other hand, the UCA and the Coalition allow personal statements to be submitted in PDF form, which supports greater formatting and control over how an essay will “look.” The Common App employs a less flexible “direct entry” box for this purpose, which produces essays that all look alike to admissions readers and discourages creativity or use of nonstandard characters and formats.

There are also differences in the wording of specific questions, particularly around testing, gender identification or disciplinary issues that might favor the use of one application over the other.
But what appears to trump all these considerations is the fact that the Common App has a working relationship with Naviance, which school counselors generally appreciate and which is not open to any other application provider

That doesn’t mean the process of document submission outside of Naviance is any more difficult for the applicant, as both the UCA and the Coalition have very simple and straightforward mechanisms for submitting and monitoring official documents. But for schools with significant investment in Naviance, the loss of this tool could represent additional work in the counseling office and/or the loss of a control factor many like to have.

So are there other factors in the decision of which application to use? Despite the promise not to show favoritism, it’s no secret that some colleges have a greater investment in one application over the other. Sometimes this shows on websites.

For example, as of this writing Bryn Mawr, Clemson, Harvard, Penn State, Purdue, Rutgers, Pitt, Virginia Tech and Connecticut College don’t mention the Coalition Application on their websites even though they are listed by the Coalition as accepting the new application for 2016-17.

And marketing students know that product placement is everything. So it’s probably to the Coalition’s disadvantage to be mentioned last on most member websites.  For Indiana University and Johns Hopkins University, it comes in number three out of three. And if you click on the “Apply” button for NC State, you’ll go straight to the Common App’s website.

On the other hand, the University of Chicago, one of the founders of the new application, happily promotes the Coalition on its admissions webpage:

The University of Chicago is proud to be an inaugural member of the new Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success. The Coalition comprises over 90 of America’s leading colleges and universities, and is dedicated to making the college search process more accessible for students across the nation. A suite of online college planning tools is now available—completely free of charge for all high school students. Those applying to UChicago for fall 2017 can use the new Coalition application, which will be available in July of 2016. More information on the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success can be found at The University of Chicago will also continue to accept the Common Application and the Universal Application.

Preference? Not so much stated as suggested. 

Northwestern promotes a Coalition video on its website, but is clear to say about which to use, “We have absolutely no preference. You should choose whichever application best suits your individual circumstances—just be sure you submit only one of these two applications to Northwestern.”  

But timing can be everything. Yale, another Coalition founding member, went live with the new application this weekend giving it a jump on the Common App, which as of this writing still shows Yale waiting to launch. 

Many would argue that the addition of a new application, or multiple new applications if Cappex gets off the ground, represents yet another complication and ratchets up the stress already underlying the application process. Others would say the process is improved when competition exists within the industry, and certainly there is evidence that the Common App has stepped up its game since the Coalition came on the scene.

From the applicant perspective, it gets down to economies of effort and/or application features that support their credentials. Will all of these products get the job of applying to college done? Yes. But that doesn’t mean that applicants can’t or won’t have preferences as to which they want to use. It also doesn’t mean that colleges are entirely without opinions on the matter.

Aug 6, 2016

U Penn reverses course on ‘Score Choice’

For years, the University of Pennsylvania imposed one of the strictest Score Choice policies in the nation. Penn stood alone, with Stanford and Georgetown, in its requirement that all standardized test scores—SAT, ACT and SAT Subject—be submitted for admission.  From Penn’s perspective, Score Choice, or the ability to choose from among scores which to submit, supported wealthier applicants able to afford repeated testing improved by hours of expensive test prep and enabled students to “hide” bad scores.

But proving that even the most rigid admissions offices can have second thoughts, Penn has reversed course on Score Choice for students applying for the Quaker class of 2021.  With what appears to be a casual website edit, Penn will now “permit Score Choice.”

For seniors considering an application to Penn, this news is both good and bad. It’s good for those who have taken tests multiple times and may have hesitated to apply out of a concern for how admissions would view their test record. It’s not as good for students who might have changed their test-taking strategy had they known earlier that Penn would simply give-up a long-standing policy so late in the game. Regardless, the policy is almost bound to increase the number of Penn applicants—no doubt hoped for by the admissions office.

It’s worth noting that this website adjustment is the latest in a series of policy changes implemented by Penn in the area of standardized testing. Last year, Penn announced that SAT Subject Tests would be “recommended” and not “required,” with further clarification suggesting that students would be free to report only those Subject Test results they cared to report. 

In other words, Score Choice got an initial foot in the door before this year’s applicants made their testing plans.

“We welcome the opportunity to review our admissions process and the role of testing,” said Eric Furda, dean of admissions, in July 2015.

At the same time Penn adjusted policies with regard to Subject Tests, a decision was made to remove the requirement to submit an ACT or “new” SAT with the essay portion.

“The decision to no longer require the essay portion of the SAT or ACT is one we considered carefully,” Furda explained. “Our internal analysis as well as a review of the extensive research provided by the College Board showed that the essay component of the SAT was the least predictive element of the overall Writing section of the SAT.” 

And another nail was driven into the heart of the Penn standardized test requirements.

This year’s further step toward dismantling the policy came without fanfare or announcement. It just appeared—almost as if by whimsy or happenstance.  If you weren’t looking for it, you might have missed the “Additional Information” provided at the bottom of the webpage dedicated to testing policy.

As of this writing, neither Stanford nor Georgetown has yielded on their particularly strict approaches to Score Choice. Stanford writes:

Official scores from all test dates must be sent to Stanford directly from the ACT or the College Board (the reporting agency for the SAT) or both if the applicant has taken the ACT and the SAT. Applicants may not use the College Board's Score Choice feature or ‘hide’ any scores with either testing agency.”

Stanford relents on SAT Subject Tests by referring to them as “recommended,” and allows students to pick which scores may be submitted:

“We recommend (but do not require) that you submit official results of at least two SAT Subject Tests, as these additional scores often assist us in our evaluation process. You are welcome to submit any and all SAT Subject Tests you have completed.”

Adhering to an even stricter Score Choice policy, Georgetown clearly states on its website:

“Georgetown University does not participate in the Score Choice option available through the College Board. Georgetown requires that you submit scores from all test sittings of the SAT, ACT, and SAT II Subject Tests.”

Several other colleges do not participate in Score Choice, but none are as strict as Stanford and Georgetown.

But then again, as Penn proves, it doesn’t take much to change a long-standing policy at any time in the admissions cycle. And colleges are free to do so without making a formal announcement or otherwise alerting their various constituencies.

It’s ultimately up to applicants and his or her advisers to keep on top of what seems to be an increasingly unpredictable and fluid process.

Disclosure: Nancy Griesemer is a proud graduate of the University of Pennsylvania College for Women (CW)—a designation the university no longer uses.

Aug 4, 2016

The Common App debuts system enhancements for 2016-17

The Common Application raised the curtain for 2016-17, a few hours in advance of the publicized August 1 opening and sent a flurry of curious applicants and their advisors running to the website for a sneak peek at what colleges have in place for the coming year. 

And they weren’t disappointed. Of nearly 700 members (hint: some are brand new and unannounced), about two-thirds or nearly 550 colleges were ready to start accepting applications from ‘day one.’ The rest presumably will open on their own schedules or once lingering technical problems are resolved.

In recent months, considerable thought has gone into upgrading the look and feel of the Common App, and the new homepage introduced last year represents a major departure from earlier versions.  There’s definitely intent to make the application more appealing to users through creative use of color and design, which carries as far as the log-in page, after which the application reverts to the more familiar format.

Optimized for mobile devices, the homepage provides a portal to the application, features a handy search for member colleges and introduces the Common App’s “Virtual Counselor”—a growing collection of videos and advice from experts in college admissions. 

There are also links to the Common App blog, “What’s (app)ening?,” the Help Center as well as to the all-important Privacy Policy and Terms of Use, both of which offer interesting reading for anyone who wants to know what tracking technologies are in place and how the Common Application uses applicant information.  If you care, the Common App collects a great deal of personally identifiable information and tracks users’ movements around the site to “gain certain behavior information about you that is shared between us and our members.”  And even if you opt out of sharing, some information may be shared anyway.

To explore system requirements, users need to leave the homepage and find a link provided at the bottom of either the registration page or one of the various log-in pages.  The short answer is that regardless of allowable browser, users must make sure the following browser settings are correct to facilitate the kind of tracking described in the Privacy Policy:
  • Javascript must be enabled
  • Cookies must be enabled
  • Popup blockers must be disabled
To view and print PDF files, the Common App also recommends Adobe Acrobat Reader 11 or higher. While PDF files should work with most other pdf viewers, the Common App only guarantees full compatibility and support for Adobe Acrobat Reader 11 or higher.
And applicants should be sure to add to their email address books or contact lists, so communications from the Common App or responses to questions don’t end up in SPAM or the junk folder.

In addition to Account Rollover, which provided transition between application years, top enhancements for the 2016-17 application system include:

  • Gender Identity. The label of the sex question changed to “sex assigned at birth” with an information button advising students that they will have an opportunity to share additional details concerning their gender identity within the application.
  • College Search.  It is now possible to search for colleges by “application fee,” “writing requirements,” “test requirements” and “recommendation requirements.” These searches are in addition to other pre-existing criteria.
  • Auto Save. The system will now save the open section every 90 seconds. Clicking “Upload” also automatically saves questions in the section the student is working in. And while working on a long answer or essay, the “save” occurs automatically if the student times out while editing a long answer in full screen mode.
  • Self-reported Scores.  The application now provides for reporting scores from both the old (before March 2016) and new (March 2016 or after) SAT tests.
  • Citizenship.   U.S. Refugee or Asylee status was added as an option under the Citizenship Status question and removed from the Visa question. Non-U.S. citizens will be asked to identify both the currently held Visa type (if applicable) and their intended future Visa type. Students also have the option to select, “I do not know which Visa I will hold.”
  • Review and Submit.  There are now three separate links that can take students back to Common App questions, College-specific questions and Recommenders and FERPA. The Personal Essay requirement and link will appear when a college requires the essay but the student hasn’t completed it yet.

In preparation for the new application year, the Common App has prepared a number of videos, presentations and other resources designed to walk students, parents, counselors or anyone else with a “need to know” through every aspect of the application from account creation through submission. These materials may be found in webpages labeled “Common App Ready.”
For a list of “live” Common App member schools (note that about 20 percent of the membership is not live as of this writing) visit the Applicant Solutions Center. Although it doesn’t exactly match the list of member institutions provided elsewhere on the site, it represents a good start and will be updated daily.

The Applicant Solutions Center also houses other really useful information like Known Issues and Progress Updates. This might make for interesting reading if you’re experiencing a particular problem with the application.  And this is also where you can ask a question without officially logging in.

If you are looking for the Application Requirements Grid, you have to be a bit more creative.  If you are an applicant, you will find the requirements grid in the College Search tab in your account OR you may simply click on the link provided in the Applicant Solutions Center. Note that the grid is only as accurate as what the colleges tell the Common App and has a few glitches, which will no doubt be corrected as more colleges complete their paperwork and go “live.”  Nevertheless, it’s a handy tool for users especially insofar as it provides information on deadlines as well as on which colleges require (or don't require) what kinds of recommendations.  

The Common App promises there is more to come in the way of expanded resources and richer content to help students and families “demystify” the college admissions process.  At the same time, staff will be monitoring how the application works and welcomes recommendations for clarification or improvement via the Applicant Solutions Center.