Feature image credit: www.coalitionforcollegeaccess.org

Applying to college can be complicated. Students need to review school profiles, look up application deadlines, ask for letters of recommendation, send transcripts and test scores, write essays, make lists of all their extracurriculars, awards, and leadership activities – and if they’re applying to an art-related program, they’ll have portfolios and auditions to keep track of on top of everything else.

The worst part is, there’s no standardization; the Clemson University application has almost no overlap with Michigan State’s.

Enter the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success (CAAS). While the Common Application allows applicants to reuse a core set of information across many (but possibly not all) of their applications, CAAS takes things a step further. Users can store any relevant files in a centralized location and invite anyone to review their in-progress applications and supplementary materials.

CAAS’s stated goal is “making college affordable and accessible for all students.” To achieve this, the organization has launched a platform designed to simplify and standardize the college admissions process. In addition, CAAS is leveling the playing field by providing free advice and guidance that often never reaches underprivileged students.

For example, many students are unaware that they should provide potential recommenders a sort of ‘cheat sheet’ of their interests and accomplishments. Students who do are more likely to get a personalized, compelling letter, which can mean the difference between acceptance and rejection. CAAS normalizes this practice by plastering a giant button on the platform’s homepage encouraging students to share their files with teachers and counselors.



The ‘Contacts’ system also facilitates editing and proofreading of in-progress applications. Instead of e-mailing out dozens of drafts or bringing printed copies to school, students can simply connect helpful individuals to their applications, Facebook-style.

On the collaborator side of things, CAAS continues to promote student-teacher interaction. Non-students who make a CAAS account are encouraged to invite students to the platform. CAAS also notes that uploaded letters of recommendation “will appear in a student’s application portal in electronically sealed envelopes to ensure confidentiality.” Students will not be able to read the letters, but will be able to submit these recommendations to the schools of their choice.

CAAS isn’t restricted to high school seniors. Part of the platform’s purpose is to engage students in the application process as early as possible, meaning that even freshmen are encouraged to sign up. Coalition accounts will remain active indefinitely, so the same documents a student used while initially applying to college will still be available if they later decide to transfer to a new school.

Although CAAS accounts can ostensibly be created by any high school student, all users are required to be 13 years of age or older. While it’s understandable that the platform might fail to accommodate the handful of 12-year-olds applying to college, roughly 2% of of K-12 students in the US have skipped a grade, meaning that a small but important fraction of freshman could find CAAS inaccessible.

Fortunately, CAAS is a beacon of accessibility in other ways. While the Common App requires students to choose either Male or Female when signing up, CAAS provides a free-response textbox for students to self-report gender.

Plenty of articles have been written regarding the Coalition’s ability to follow through on its promise of affordability. Currently, the main issue with CAAS is its scope; there are only 94 member institutions at time of press. For comparison, the Common App boasts 626 schools. CAAS members aren’t a strict subset of the Common App list, however – 22 schools are unique to the Coalition.

While the site launched this month, the application component won’t be completely rolled out until next year. Only 56 member schools will be accepting Coalition applications this Fall, and prospective transfer students aren’t currently supported. However, students applying to college this year might still benefit from the structure and guidance provided by the CAAS platform.

It’s encouraging to see a holistic approach to solving systemic problems such as undermatching, but CAAS is still in its infancy. If this pilot year goes smoothly, expect many more schools to be signing on to the Coalition in the future. Ideally, an increasing number of students will find the CAAS platform naturally fitting into and improving their college application process.