Elite Colleges Explore Alternative to Common App (Chronicle)

By Eric Hoover

Admissions officials at some of the nation’s most-selective colleges seek to create a new online application system, according to documents obtained by The Chronicle. Although the platform would rival the Common Application, its members apparently would include only private colleges with robust financial-aid budgets, and public institutions with high graduation rates.

Earlier this year, an “exploratory committee” comprising representatives of Harvard, Princeton, and Yale Universities, among several other institutions, sent out a request for proposals describing their interest in “an application solution to ensure that students can apply when another application mode experiences difficulties or system failure,” according to a May 12 draft of the RFP. “There is also interest,” the document says, “in establishing a new collaborative option for individual higher-education institutions as they work in their own ways to enroll the very best and most diverse freshman classes they can.” If built, the system could go live as early as next year.

The plans mark the latest chapter in the unfolding saga of the Common App, which was plagued by various technical difficulties at the height of last year’s admissions cycle. Following months of glitches, admissions leaders at colleges that had used the Common App exclusively said they worried about placing all of their eggs in one basket.

About a year ago, some admissions officials at colleges within the Consortium on Financing Higher Education, known as Cofhe, first discussed the possibility of starting a shared application system of their own, according to two deans who participated in the discussions. “There is a large sense that the Common App dominates the world, and the thought is, Wouldn’t it be good to have a fall-back option?” one of the deans said. “Nobody’s talking about this as a replacement, but as an additional option.”

The group, according to both officials, has weighed questions about which institutions should participate in such a platform. Initially, the deans recalled, there was interest in inviting only private institutions that meet the full financial need of accepted students. Later, the group decided to seek support from a more-diverse array of institutions, including some public colleges.

About Ryan C. Fowler

Ryan is a curricular fellow at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington D.C. He also teaches at Franklin and Marshall College and Lancaster Theological Seminary.
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