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Alternative to 'Common App' Aims to Help Students Apply to College

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A group of 83 colleges and universities, including some of the most elite in the country, have banded together to offer a shared college-application system that they hope will engage more low-income and traditionally underrepresented students.

The new application system, from an organization called the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success, will be available to high school students next summer, with the planning tools available in January, according to the organization's website.

The online platform is an alternative to the widely used Common Application, but it reaches farther. While the "common app" is for application only, the new coalition's system will offer students information and support as they research college choices.

That's an idea based on research showing that low-income students and those from other groups who have long been underrepresented on college campuses need more help and support making college plans, applying to schools, and enrolling, than do their peers.

Some students, such as those from low-income families and those without a history of college-going in their families, also tend to "under-match," or choose schools that aren't as rigorous as their academic records suggest they could handle. That can hinder their success, since more-selective schools tend to have higher graduation rates.

The schools in the new coalition, a mix of public and private institutions, all have good graduation rates and offer good financial aid packages. Among them are Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, the University of Michigan and the University of Virginia. A full list of coalition members can be found on its website.

Strong financial aid, grad rates, required

In order to be part of the coalition, colleges must show that they graduate at least 70 percent of their students within six years. Private colleges and universities must "provide sufficient financial aid to meet the full, demonstrated financial need" of all U.S. students, and public schools must have affordable tuition for in-state students and good financial aid, the website says.

Most colleges in the new group also belong to the Common Application and allow applicants to use it, according to The Los Angeles Times.

The coalition's portal will allow students to build an online portfolio of written work, photographs, video, artwork or other projects as they progress through high school, to submit with applications. Students can use the portal for free, but must still pay college-application fees, unless those are waived by individual institutions.

Several college officials said that widely publicized glitches with the Common Application in 2013 were a factor in their decisions to participate in the new coalition's portal. But they emphasized the need for a different system that engaged students earlier and offered more help.

"In creating this platform, these colleges and universities hope to recast the college admission process from something that is transactional and limited in time into a more engaged, ongoing and educationally reaffirming experience," the coalition said in a statement announcing the new system.

"They also hope to motivate a stronger college-going mindset among students of all backgrounds, especially those from low-income families or underrepresented groups who have historically had less access to leading colleges and universities."

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