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 The Coalition Application, Common Application, and Things Colleges & Universities ought to know

Many people have been railing about the application process, and there are many broad topics that go beyond any one particular application platform. I’m hoping on behalf of my future students that these issues can be reviewed, and some changes can be implemented.

Coalition-Specific Issues

 Flexibility

Students need the ability to bounce around and work on different sections.  It is great that based upon the schools selected it will show only those profile sections that are needed so student doesn’t waste time on irrelevant ones. However, not every answer should need to be completed for a student to work on the college-specific sections.  For example, in August the student may know she is registered to take a dual enrollment class but doesn’t yet know the course name and number.  Yet, unless the student either a)puts in fake number as placeholder or b)pretends that she isn’t taking a college class, she’s prevented from working on the college questions.

 College Information

These sections are just plain confusing.  One question asks how many college credits the student has earned to date.  And the next question asks how many credits the student will have earned after high school.  If a student is taking dual enrollment classes in senior year, the Profile isn’t asking that (even though some individual colleges do ask it).  And if a student puts those credits as being earned after high school, the Profile “updates” and frames the applicant as a transfer student.

In the College Coursework section, why is it necessary to know the exact course name and number? It seems to be sufficient for the Common App that a student lists the college, and indicates dual enrollment.  This impacts students because they may not get specific course details until 1st or 2nd week of September when school begins after Labor Day, and as mentioned above, this delays the student in accessing the school-specific questions.

 Testing

When colleges allow score choice, why should the question be phrased “how many times have you taken the SAT (or ACT)?”  What if the student plans on utilizing score choice & superscoring to report and send those with the highest subscores over 2 or 3 exams—she still has to honestly answer that she’s taken it 4 times? The Common App just asks how many scores the student wants to report.

 Honors

This is a minor point, but if a student earns something multiple years (i.e. high honor roll) why can’t multiple years be selected?

 Activities

Why only 8? But, it is appreciated and noted that you allow for high and low end levels of time for each activity.

Reviewing Applications

The functionality of sharing a document for review is overly complicated.  The student has to save pdf, then go into the locker, find it, click on the share button, then find a contact, write a message, and then share.  Or, after going into the locker, opening the document, saving it to the student’s computer, the student can then attach it to an email. After they’ve gone and corrected something, they go to repeat the process and it won’t let them share because they’ve already shared it (even though it could be a completely new/updated pdf).   

Common App

 Education

When students are listing their current classes, they aren’t clear on how to list those that are taken all year but alternating days.  Students are typically advised to list the course as full year (because it is) but that doesn’t always sit right with them.

 Activities

Very few students participate in activities with rigid schedules.  Whether it is an athlete who starts slowly with practices, but as the season progresses and then championship play the time commitment increases OR a performer who goes from low level rehearsals to intense tech week, it is very difficult to pin down hours per week.  The Coalition allows for number of hours on low & high end.

 Colleges and Universities, Generally

Deadlines

Under NACAC the earliest deadlines cannot be prior to October 15th, with the majority of Early and Priority deadlines on November 1st.  One of the biggest sources of confusion is the deadline for the credentials or supporting materials, particularly the ones that are not within the student’s control.  Yes, students should apply well in advance of the actual deadlines.  Yes, the students should understand the policies of each high school to facilitate the timely delivery of transcripts and letters of recommendation.  They should also timely send official test scores as needed.  However, glitches happen, and when students check portals to confirm that everything is received—or more frequently, they get emails telling them applications are incomplete—there is panic, and screaming phone calls and emails to high school counselors just as the deadline approaches.  It is further exacerbated when documents have been sent and it is just the processing on the college or university side that has yet to occur, but the students think they’ve blown the deadline.

 Coalition Interface

Those schools who use Coalition exclusively, or who accept Coalition or their own application are in the best position to ensure the Coalition is more user-friendly.  And if the schools allows for inclusion of the Coalition Essay, why does the word count have to be different? By now all these schools must know that students work on the Common App essay first, and by the time they access the school-specific section on the Coalition (see issues with that above) they are surprised to find the word count to be lower.  Granted, counselors (independent & school) usually have resources to determine which schools ask for the Coalition essays (and other supplements) but if the point of the Coalition is about Access for all, this doesn’t help.

 Self-Reported Grade Systems

It is clearly understood that colleges and universities want to recalculate gpa based upon their own criteria.  And other times, they want to begin reviewing applications before the student’s high school has sent the transcript.  But both the Common App and Coalition have places for courses and grades to be listed, and as time consuming as they may be, at least they are done by the time the student applies (and this section can go to multiple schools).  But for students applying to schools in Florida, Pennsylvania and others, after submitting the application they must still complete SSAR and SRAR.  Additionally, SSAR requires grades to be reported on A-F scale, and students who receive grades on 1-100 are unsure of the correct conversion.

 Extra Items Requested After Submission

It is one thing for students to encounter scholarship and honors essays and related requirements in the portal after they submit initial application.  Those usually have separate deadlines.  However, certain schools could have put requirement for a resume in the common app section, but instead it shows up for the first time in the portal. Granted, a student who applies early enough would have had time to do a resume, but for a procrastinating hs student, who finally applies and then gets access to the portal on October 28, realizing that he has to put together a resume in time for 11/1 deadline is very stressful.

 Changing Requirements During Application Season

There have been a few instances where word limits or even entire supplemental essays have changed between August 1st and November 1st.  This is confusing for students and also makes counselors look like we don’t know what we are doing.

 Score Choice/SuperScoring

This is a very confusing topic.  Colleges and Universities routinely say they are looking for reasons to admit students, so they urge students to submit all scores so the schools can make sure they are getting the best review.  I can see students being confused about concordance between the SAT & ACT, so telling students to submit similar ones makes sense.  Additionally, it can benefit a high scoring student to show consistency across both platforms.  But within either the SAT or ACT, students can tell which subsections are highest.  If they only want to submit the best 2 (or 3) exams, why shouldn’t they? On the flip side, many students are either getting bad advice (usually peer-to-peer buzz) or feel the pressure to start testing early--some doing so before they’ve had the curriculum or done any review/preparation. Later testing shows improvement.  Unless it IS your goal to analyze how many times a student tested to get to the best score, why wouldn’t you want to only see the highest results? If so, the language across all application platforms should be consistent: how many scores do you want to report vs. how many times have you taken the test.  Further, College Board should not be indicating the test policies of the schools because the information isn’t always correct.  It is very confusing for a student to be told that the particular college doesn’t participate in score choice at the time she is sending the official scores, when the website of that particular school does not say the same.

Additionally, bravo to the colleges and universities who allow self-reporting of test scores.  Families feel the pinch of application fees and costs of supplemental portfolios, and to be able to save on sending official scores everywhere is welcome relief.  Ideally, there would be a universal policy governing this, as some schools will only allow counselors to submit the necessary proof—and that is frustrating to put on the counselors’ to-do list at this time of year.  So, in an effort to not annoy the counselors, the students feel the need to send official scores.

 Housing Priority

Under NACAC CEPP schools who guarantee housing for all first year students are not supposed to use housing assignments to manipulate enrollment commitments prior to May 1st. If that is the case, at schools where first year housing is guaranteed, everyone submitting an enrollment deposit by May 1st should be in a lottery for housing.  Or if there are themed or honors housing that can require other conditions.  But ask any senior family and they will have one or many schools who state that to have priority in housing selection, the sooner the deposit the better. Students quickly learn the ‘best’ dorms, or fear the forced triple. This results in leaving deposits at multiple schools, in violation of the students’ promises not to double (or triple) deposit.  Additionally, while the enrollment deposits are refundable if the student changes his mind before May 1st, often the housing deposit is lost. 

Now, for the schools that don’t guarantee first year housing, it is understandable that it is first come-first served.  But some schools count from the date the housing deposit is left (again, which may or may not be refundable) others time it from the date the application for admission is submitted.  Further, there’s even at least one school that emails students within a few weeks of receiving the application, advising that as there is no guarantee of first year housing, the students should remit a housing deposit—which the school says will not be refundable if the student decides not to attend OR EVEN IF THE STUDENT ISN’T ADMITTED.  How is that in compliance with NACAC guidelines? Or fair and reasonable?

 Requirements for Financial Aid Documents

Families often hear that even if they doesn’t expect to qualify for need-based aid, colleges and universities still want or require families to file FAFSA (and sometimes CSS Profile) to be eligible for merit awards. But there’s no easy way to know which schools—aside from individually contacting each financial aid office.

 Consistency

Colleges and Universities have unique attributes and seek different qualities in their potential students.  It makes sense for them to ask different questions, require different supplements, award scholarships in any way they choose, and obviously select different applicants for admission. Being able to apply online, using platforms such as the Common App and the Coalition is a huge benefit to the students.  But some of the mechanics have significant enough variations to add layers of stress to these high school seniors.  So many families shake their heads and wonder how a high school student is expected to navigate this process without additional help.