Even though high school seniors are making college decisions for 2016, it’s not too early for those rising juniors to start thinking about college applications for 2017.

There have been major changes this year in the way students apply to college — from the College Scorecard from the government to the redesigned SAT. And now comes the biggest shift in this already complicated system.

Get ready for the Coalition Application for those graduating high school in 2017 and beyond. In response to widespread criticism of the Common Application, 90 high-profile colleges and universities have banded together to “increase access and affordability” in the college application process. They call themselves “the Coalition.”

Officially The Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success, the group is committed to paving the way for more underrepresented and first-generation students to apply to and graduate nearly debt-free from well-known institutions in the United States.

To be considered for membership, a college must guarantee to meet “demonstrated need” and to graduate at least 70 percent of newly enrolled freshman in six years.

The coalition’s premature rollout party last fall was met with considerable skepticism and criticism, however. Opponents suspected that the organization’s deeper intentions had to do with branding and market position.

With the Common Application’s amorphous growth in membership, some saw the Coalition’s creation as an effort to recapture the allure of exclusivity, and to create symbolic distance from some of the less-than-forthright practices that have tarnished higher education in recent years.

Cynicism aside, the Coalition intends to harness the power of technology to demystify the college application process and to encourage more applications, especially from those students who receive little guidance or encouragement at home or school. Studies show that some kids with high grades and scores often don’t apply to top colleges — discouraged by the sticker price and unaware of the nuances in the application and financial aid process.

The Coalition’s most novel and potentially transformative feature is a digital “locker” of unlimited space in which students will be prompted to upload papers, videos and journals from ninth grade on — information that can easily be “populated” into a student’s ultimate application to college.

Does effectively starting the college process in ninth grade bring with it more pressure, and will the “Locker” spur new anxiety about what and how much to upload? For some families, yes. And those with the resources will surely investigate new avenues to game the system.

But at the end of the day, the Coalition’s system seems likely to put more control into the hands of students, empowering them to think about their four-year record and how they may have developed intellectually and personally.

I don’t see how this can be a bad thing, and neither will the families that take full advantage of what the application offers.

— Matt Struckmeyer is director of college counseling at Dunn School, a private day and boarding school in Los Olivos. A former Teaching Fellow at Harvard, he’s worked with students in private and public schools for 25 years. He leads a college application camp in August on the Dunn School campus, 2555 Highway 154. The opinions expressed are his own.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.