It is no surprise that college preparation has traditionally been restricted to children from familoes who can afford applications, counseling, tutoring for standardized tests and overall access to elite institutions. Access to higher education continues to be a widely discussed issue among millennials and lawmakers on a local and federal level. However, between discussions about tuition, standardized testing methods and privately hired college counselors, one aspect is often forgotten: the process of actually applying to college.
Last week, the Common Application introduced a new set of changes that demonstrate its commitment to bridging the gap between different students’ ability to use the Common Application.
Elite institutions have become increasingly aware of their lower-income students’ needs. In conjunction with the tuition hikes, universities have also increased financial aid and grant programs. USC is just one example of this dedication to college access. Although there continues to be a plethora of problematic practices that elite institutions adopt, there has also been more discussion and awareness on the topic of first-generation and lower income students.
Institutions are improving their support for low-income, first-generation students once they get to campus, but the process of getting to USC remains burdensome and difficult for students, especially those who do not have school and family support.
One of the main changes that the Common Application recently made includes a section where students must report every class they took and the grade they received, prior to when admission officers obtain the official transcript. This doesn’t seem to have a large benefit, though the universities in the UC system and other schools, including USC, already require students to self-report grades. The more impactful changes that the system will make this upcoming cycle are Google Drive integration, adviser integration and translation to Spanish.
The Google Drive integration allows files such as a resumes and essays to be imported directly from the Cloud system. While it doesn’t seem like a large change, this tool is incredibly crucial to students who may not have the same access to technology as their more privileged peers. College admission expert Valerie Strauss said this marks a wonderful change for students who “don’t have personal computers and rely on school and community resources to access this type of technology” in a blog for The Washington Post. Additionally, the Drive application has proven to be incredibly popular in school settings, commended for its intuitiveness and collaborative nature. Anything that makes the application process more straightforward is a move in the positive direction for the Common App.
Key instructions and information about the Common Application will now be available in Spanish, which makes it easier for students whose second language is English, as well as parents who do not speak English to be increasingly integrated into the process. Introducing other popular languages to the platform could be an easy and effective improvement.
Translation to Spanish has clear and necessary benefits, and the adviser integration tool has its advantages, but may also yield issues with academic integrity. This tool allows additional people to invite others to view into a student’s Common App to give them feedback, when previously, only school counselors were allowed access.
Strauss points out that this provides increased support for students who not only lack a strong college counseling system, but also enables the Common Application to function as a group activity when its purpose is to demonstrate the merit and skill of the individual.
These changes are gradual and intentional, demonstrating that the Common App is dedicated to making the application process an easier one for all those involved. However, these are only the beginning for the changes on the Common App, and it is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the application process. For first-generation students whose parents adopt English as their second language, and even for those who do have family support, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), can still be difficult to navigate.
One way to streamline the process for students could be to combine the FAFSA and the Common App processes, and thus simplify the entire application process. At high schools with more access to resources than others, the need for financial aid is not as dire but the college counselors at these schools are well-equipped to help students and parents work through the difficult financial aid processes. However, at schools with less economic resources, where the need among students for financial aid and for help applying for financial aid is greater, the resources are also scarcer.
Another obstacle in applying to college are the application fees. Some schools provide a voucher option to waive the fee — but once again, this is very dependent on the school’s college counseling program. The Common App and FAFSA, once again, could work together to implement a system within their programs to give vouchers to students, regardless of their school’s competence.
Colleges and universities should not judge students on their ability to navigate the maze that is financial aid, application fees and supplemental documents, but rather their merits as a student and a person. Simplifying this process benefits everyone involved, and the recent changes to the Common App mark a step in the right direction.