Kaifeng Wu

On Sept. 28, the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success — a group of over 80 colleges and universities nationwide that includes Yale — announced an alternative to the Common Application that would make applying to college more affordable and accessible for students from underprivileged backgrounds, set to launch in January of 2016. But on Oct. 7, creators of the new platform pushed the introduction to April — a four-month deferral from its initial launch date — in order to put finishing touches on the new application and publicize it in a more effective way.

The new platform, called the Coalition Application, will give students the opportunity to create an online portfolio during their freshman year of high school and add to it over the next three years. In addition, colleges will be able to communicate with registered users and provide feedback on their applications before students reach senior year. But despite the application’s more modern features, the platform has received mixed responses from experts and administrators in higher education.

Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan — a member of the Coalition’s board of directors and one of the project’s lead architects — said one of the most immediate pieces of feedback the Coalition received was that more information needs to be released before students can begin using the platform.

“Our intention was always to use the next few months as an opportunity to get feedback and make the platform as robust and user-friendly as possible,” Quinlan said. “We felt like moving the release from January to April would provide us a few more months to perfect the tool and educate those who work with students about it in as effective a way as possible.”

Since its announcement one month ago, the Coalition Application has prompted significant dialogue among college counselors and those working in higher education, with many expressing concerns over the lack of available details regarding the platform.

On Sunday, the New York Times published letters from the Jesuit High School College Counselors Association and the Association of College Counselors in Independent Schools in which members outlined criticisms of the initiative. Specifically, the letter mentioned that the pressure to start putting together an application in the ninth grade would create excessive anxiety for students during a time when they should be focused on developing their own interests. Furthermore, the letter questioned how the application will help students who attend schools without guidance counselors or with inadequate college counseling resources.

“We are just hoping that [the letter] doesn’t fall on deaf ears and that our concerns are heard,” Erik Michels, head of college counseling at Bellarmine Preparatory School in Tacoma, Washington and a co-signee of the JHSCCA letter, told the News. “As counselors we’re trying to advocate for our students by addressing these concerns.”

Michels added that with changes to the SAT as well as federal financial aid applications — which will use two-years prior tax information as opposed to one — impacting future admissions cycles, the implementation of the Coalition Application will create difficulties for students navigating the new system.

On Monday, the Coalition responded to the JHSCCA letter affirming its commitment to addressing feedback from counselors but also acknowledging that many aspects of the Coalition Application are still in the works.

“We understand counselors’ desire for more information, but we hope that ‘the answer depends on the institution’ and ‘this is in development’ are acceptable responses while we continue to work on these tools,” the letter stated. “The intention behind our initial announcement was to communicate news about the Coalition early in development so we could use the time between September and January for gathering feedback from other constituents … before using the time between January and July to conduct tests with intrepid students who were in the live platform.”

Still, many others are optimistic about the Coalition Application. Sara Urquidez, executive director of the Academic Success Program — a college-access program that serves Dallas-Fort Worth high schools — said that in order for students to have a successful college search, students need to become aware of affordable options before their senior years.

Urquidez said that many outstanding students stand the risk of being “undermatched” for schools because they think more selective schools are not available to them or do not know they exist. The Coalition Application is intended to provide access for these students by making them aware of affordable college options early on.

“It shouldn’t be acceptable to us as educators that that kind of lack of knowledge exists in our public schools,” she said. “We should all be doing what we can do close that gap, and the coalition is just one solution to that. It’s not the only solution, it’s just another resource for kids to access.”

Urquidez added that critics of the initiative may not understand the challenges that under-resourced schools face, specifying that the Coalition Application would provide tools to students that are already available at wealthier high schools in the form of programs like Naviance, a college and career readiness software provider.

In the coming weeks, the Coalition will be hiring staff to manage operations, as well as expanding access to the platform to member institutions, Quinlan said.

All eight Ivy League universities are part of the Coalition.