On Wednesday evening, Yale — along with 82 other universities – announced that it had joined the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success, a grand organization with the even grander goal of redesigning the college application system.
We can all agree that the admissions process needs to change; as many have noted, forcing students to condense 18 years into 500 words is a woefully inadequate way to select a freshman class. But the new “Coalition Application,” well-intentioned though it may be, isn’t the answer — in fact, it may make things worse.
Starting next year, students can upload their accomplishments as they progress through high school onto a new online portfolio system. Troublingly, students are encouraged to show these portfolios to admissions officers as early as freshman year to receive feedback and advice. In theory, this sounds great. But the reality is that such a system will legitimize the hypercompetitive culture and toxic neuroticism fostered by College Confidential and other online forums.
There’s already a sort of voodoo set of rituals surrounding college admissions. I remember being a freshman in high school and hearing the whispers: “Run for student council,” “Join that club,” “Do community service.” Why did a sizeable chunk of my high school class end up volunteering at the local hospital despite having no interest in the work whatsoever? Because they feared that they wouldn’t get into college otherwise. The country’s most competitive high schools are home to an arms race, with students struggling to collect trophies, test scores, awards, research grants and leadership positions. Nobody knows what gets someone into college, of course, so students latch onto whatever vague information they can find, regardless of its veracity.
Far too many students in my home state of California have suffered deep anxiety induced by the college application process. Many a late night conversation was devoted to how anxious my friends and I were about everything — and these conversations started as early as freshman year. It was unhealthy.
So what happens now? Students who do not submit portfolios early on are effectively at a disadvantage. All those fears of not doing enough, achieving enough or proving themselves enough will gain some level of validity as students will inevitably compare the feedback they receive from admissions officers with one another. I’m worried about what kinds of late-night conversations students will have next year. Is it really so much of a stretch to suggest that students will see their educational futures determined as early as ninth grade? And when does this end? Will we begin looking at who spoke first in kindergarten?
When it comes to the college application process, there’s a huge knowledge disparity between high-income and low-income families — largely because of how convoluted the entire system has become. I admire the Coalition’s attempt to encourage low-income students to apply by stressing the importance of long-term planning, but this won’t work. If anything, it will confuse students even more, especially without the robust system of college counselors that more affluent neighborhoods enjoy. Instead, the gap will get even wider as rich students receive feedback from the very admissions officers who will be reviewing their applications in years to come. Admittedly, the system does allow low-income students to ask admissions officers questions directly online. But I worry that without any face-to-face interaction this tool will go unused.
Right now, the Coalition boasts that it includes Ivy League schools, Stanford, Duke and several other top-notch colleges. But this too is a problem. Many students frankly do not have the resources to attend these schools, even if they do get in. The Coalition Application, which notably omits the entire University of California system, does little to help students apply to some of the most popular universities in the country, such as many state schools.
Instead, the application caters largely to upper-middle-class families who are already encouraging their children to get involved in the process early on. Rather than creating what amounts to an early college application, the Coalition ought to focus on creating a system of outreach to low-income families and pooling its vast resources to build a better and more accessible application experience.
Shreyas Tirumala is a sophomore in Trumbull College. His column usually runs on alternate Fridays. Contact him at email@example.com .