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New option introduced for college applicants

Inside Higher Ed is reporting on a new application for undergraduate admissions to college that could change the way students think about making a first impression with their prospective alma mater. 

The big-three North Carolina universities — NC State, UNC-CH, and Duke — are on the list of 80 institutions that will be accepting this new application. 

For those familiar with the traditional college application, standardized across nearly all universities, the new process will be a departure and will necessitate some long-term thinking. 

Starting in 9th grade, students could start compiling an online portfolio, for free, where they could include essays, extracurricular activities, and anything else they think might impress prospective colleges. They could share or not share these items with colleges, but it would be a place to begin collecting everything the students think best represents who they are as learners. 

These portfolios could also be shared with people who can give the students feedback on what they’re including and what it says about their future ambitions. For instance, a college admissions officer could look at a portfolio and let the student know if he or she is preparing well for a future major.

Finally, the college application itself will be different than what students are used to. It would be customized by the specific college and draw on the material provided by the student in his or her portfolio. 

The new process was designed by the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success. 

According to the Coalition’s website, this new process will better enable access to higher education for students from low socio-economic backgrounds. 

“A growing amount of research has shown that students from disadvantaged backgrounds often do not participate effectively in the college application process, struggle with applying for financial aid, and often do not get awarded all the financial aid they qualify for. As a result, even some of the most highly qualified students do not attend college, attend colleges that do not engage their full potential, or do not complete their degrees. The Coalition is developing a platform of tools to help reduce these barriers and make progress in leveling the playing field for students from all backgrounds,” the website states. 

Inside Higher Ed quotes UNC-CH’s vice president for enrollment and undergraduate admissions, Stephen Farmer, as saying UNC is accepting this new process because of the opportunities it affords low-income students. 

“‘We’ve got to broaden our thinking about what constitutes talent,’ he said, adding that this approach will lead universities to focus on developing the talent of high school students, not just picking already talented high school seniors,” according to Inside Higher Ed. 

This news isn’t being universally greeted with glee, however. Inside Higher Ed also quotes Aba Blankson, director of communications for the Common Application — the application most college applicants are familiar with. 

She told Inside Higher Ed that 32 percent of the 860,000 applicants that use the more traditional Common Application were the first in their families to apply for colleges, and that many of them apply for schools that don’t qualify to join the Coalition and accept the new applications. 

“All students deserve an opportunity to go to college,” she told Inside Higher Ed. “Not all of them are going to be admitted to [coalition] institutions. Having the breadth and diversity of our membership helps more students find a fit, even if they are not admitted to some of these elite institutions.”

According to the Coalition’s website, the portfolio will be open in January 2016, and the application will start in summer 2016. 

We are seeking comment from Duke and NC State, and this article will be updated with any additional information. 

Alex Granados

Alex Granados was the senior reporter for EducationNC from December 2014-March 2023.