It’s hard to mark the line between making public education more accessible and perpetuating the idea that a college degree is crucial for individual success. The former can easily become the latter without realistic guidelines to guide the application process. In its most extreme form, this seemingly noble race to college may pit students against one another, and at dangerously younger ages.
As the number of students applying to selective universities increases, many have questioned the current application process as it exists through the Common Application and individual application platforms.
The Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success is a group of colleges and universities across the nation that aim to make college more available and feasible for all students. Over 80 private and public institutions have joined so far, and the coalition stresses that its members follow strict guidelines; these schools must have at least 70 percent graduation rates over six years and meet the financial needs of students.
In the face of growing statistics, the coalition strives to allow students to cogently express themselves qualitatively rather than quantitatively. With an emphasis on a student’s creativity, the coalition will allow students to upload media in the form of photos or videos in order to truly express themselves.
The coalition plans to unveil this new application next year, and hopes that students will begin building their profiles as early as freshman year. Additional tools, such as an online portfolio and ‘locker,’ will allow students to keep track of their resumé over several years as they build a picture of their growth. The coalition also stresses the ease with which parents and college counselors will be able to access the portal and has plans to fully bring the application to mobile devices.
While this group’s intentions are rightly placed, its means of enacting them are drastically unrealistic and potentially harmful.
The coalition hopes that students will be able to view college deadlines and crucial information more readily through their application. The New York Times reported that Dean Paul Thiboutot of Carleton College anticipates “chat rooms with admissions officers or shopping-style prompts.”
Mimicking an online ‘shopping cart’ or chat-room brings forth a rather comical idea. Is this the new Amazon for college? With the average price of private tuition increasing every year, students and their families are already aware of the consumer and brand-like aspect of the application process. This platform of communication may further induce colleges to amp up their marketing campaigns as they move from advertising via email and regular mail to the application itself.
With a platform accessible over many years at the click of a button, the coalition hopes to reach low- to moderate-income students. Proponents of this plan argue that the sooner low-income students have information about colleges, the more likely they are to believe that college is an affordable option. While the coalition rightly points out that students who are not informed may indeed be less likely to apply, the solution is not to create a new online platform.
Students from households with low incomes often do not have access to computers at all. While many praise the supposedly democratic nature of the internet, national statistics reveal that not as many people have ready access to the Web as is generally assumed. According to the US Census, only 48.4 percent of households with incomes below $25,000 had some internet subscription, assuming that they had a computer at all. Having to seek out the rare library or school computer already refutes the coalition’s point that their platform will be easily accessible to students.
Logistically, high schools such as M-A do not currently have the guidance staff to support students as they take on yet another application platform, adding to the Common Application, University of California and California State University applications, and colleges’ respective platforms. These applications, with their multi-page questionnaires and forms, consume a significant portion of students’ lives already filled with regular homework assignments. And what about the other thousands of schools not within the 80 members of the coalition? In short, adding another application would be a logistical nightmare.
Creators of the coalition assert that beginning the application process as early as ninth grade would greatly reduce stress, allowing students to tackle the in-depth application over the course of four years rather than one. Yet even if students began their applications freshman year, an unlikely event considering the amount of seniors who finished the Common Application mere weeks before it was due, what worldly insight does a 14 year old hold to sway the minds of admissions officers three years down the road? While a student’s growth may indeed begin at this age, it is likely that he or she would be able to reach a more reflective and genuine understanding of themselves the older and more experienced he or she is. A freshman has not yet cultivated the skills of dedicated and focused study many admissions officers look for in senior applicants.
We should be devoting our energy to programs that directly target low-income students and we should be guiding them through high school courses and ultimately college applications. An electronic platform is not going to convince a first-generation student to apply to college– a conversation with the school counselor who can then provide flyers, books, and other resources is.
Rather than reduce student stress, beginning the college process earlier can only increase it. This is not the solution in an environment of already volatile levels of stress and competition. If our approach college continues in this fashion, who knows what will prevent parents from hiring private college counselors for their middle-schooler, or students from staging elaborate video productions to upload to their accounts. This is not the way to reform the current college application process.