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Harvard Joins Coalition To Offer Common App Alternative

Harvard acceptance letters are sealed by members of the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid prior to being mailed off.
Harvard acceptance letters are sealed by members of the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid prior to being mailed off.
By Daphne C. Thompson, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard will join more than 80 colleges and universities across the country in accepting a new college application platform that positions itself as a more individualized alternative to the Common Application.

The federation of colleges, which calls itself the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success, announced Monday that it will make an alternative platform with college planning tools available to prospective students in January 2016. Through the new portal, students can build online portfolios of their work throughout their high school careers, and they then may share parts of them with advisers, teachers, and admissions officers for feedback throughout high school.

Starting next summer, then, many member schools—including Harvard—will begin accepting applications through the new portal.

Harvard currently accepts the Common Application and the Universal College Application, but has been investigating the potential of a third platform since at least May 2014, according to a confidential proposal request. According to the coalition’s website, member schools—including all of the Ivy League—must have a graduation rate more than 70 percent within six years and demonstrate a commitment to financial aid.

Harvard’s dean of admissions and financial aid, William R. Fitzsimmons ’67, spoke with The Crimson about the then-nascent platform in February. He said the Admissions Office strives to make the College application process flexible enough to accommodate a range of strengths.

“We don’t want to force people to be in some little box or be too direct in telling you how you should present yourself,” Fitzsimmons said. “We respect people’s choices.”

The coalition’s press release touts the new platform’s potential to better engage students from disadvantaged backgrounds by emphasizing college preparation from the beginning of high school. Fitzsimmons, likewise, said Harvard’s Admissions Office tries not to burden disadvantaged students with an overly cumbersome application.

“It’s true that there are some people working two jobs, or supporting their siblings,” he said. “We don’t want to put more pressure on people by having them be involved in many arcane hoops that need to be jumped.”

Still, not everyone is convinced that the coalition’s new application will simplify the admissions process. Parke P. Muth, a former associate dean of admissions at the University of Virginia, said the new platform’s portfolio feature could disadvantage international students who may not plan to apply to U.S. schools until late into secondary school.

He also warned that the platform could create “an arms race of sorts” from the start of high school as younger students “feel pressure to submit papers, projects, videos, and recommendations in numbers unthought of before.”

“It could, for those who feel this might help them stand out, end up becoming a much more complicated process than what currently exists,” he said.

David Mainiero, the director of college counseling at InGenius Prep, said he supports the coalition application’s goals, but cautioned that offering too many application options might overburden some admissions departments.

“I think that this looks like a great program, but I would like admissions officers’ jobs to be easier because I think they’re already under-resourced,” Mainiero said. “Anything that adds to their workload, I wouldn’t necessarily be in favor of.”

Harvard’s decision to join the coalition comes after technical difficulties with the Common App in 2013 prompted a number of schools to push back their application deadlines, which Fitzsimmons said highlighted the need for multiple application methods.

“It became very important with us when there were problems with the Common App two years ago to have an alternative way to apply,” Fitzsimmons said. “It’s always a good thing to have various ways for people to apply to colleges.”

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