Um, should high school freshman start working on their college apps now?

We all know that it’s getting harder and harder to get into college. As US News & World Report told us, between 2000 and 2010, the population of college-aged kids swelled 13%, and between 1980 and 2012, college enrollment rates increased from 26% to 41%. Which is to say, not only are there more kids now, there are also more kids now that are actively pursuing a college education. As interest in college has risen, acceptance rates have plummeted. In 1988, Columbia University had a 65% acceptance rate. Now that number is below 6%. Similarly, Yale’s acceptance rate went from 17% to 7%.

All of which is to say, it is WAY harder for kids today to get into those super-prestigious schools. So what do these colleges recommend an aspiring Ivy League-er do? Start your application early. Like, WAY early.

As CBS News reports, a group of 80 colleges called the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success, which includes elite schools like Stanford and Amherst, recently announced that it has plans to reorganize the college admission process so that students can start building their admissions portfolios as soon as they enter high school. Using the program’s “virtual college lockers,” students would be able to upload evidence of their stellar work into their online portfolio, and can share that portfolio with colleges they are pursuing as part of their admissions process.

Not everyone is for this new plan, and in fact, the coalition has received tremendous pushback from college counselors and consultants. Though the coalition insists that its goal is to help low-income students who don’t have access to ideal counseling programs at their schools, counselors worry that in the end this system will only be another advantage for upper-income college applicants.

As InsideHighered reports, David Rion, the director of college counseling at Sonoma Academy, explained in a post on a college admission counseling listerv that “If this application takes off, I can tell you that at my well-to-do private high school, we’ll set up advisory meetings twice a semester, starting freshman year, for students to look through all of their work, talk to me about what should go in their portfolio, and answer the essay prompts (wait, did a ninth grader just write content for their Yale application?). … My kids are going to have shiny, full, beautiful portfolios. It’ll take tons of work, but that’s my job. Local public school student with counselor to student ratio of 500-1? [sic] … Any tool that is somewhat complicated in the college admissions process automatically advantages those who are already advantaged. And this tool sounds somewhat complicated!”

Rion makes an important point here. This system absolutely looks like just another way to give an advantage to applicants who are already coming in with plenty of advantages. It is unclear how in practice this system would genuinely give lower-income students a leg up.

Meanwhile, as CBS News reports, earlier this month, at the National Association for College Admission Counseling, a counselor at a Jesuit high school made the following point:

“I worry very deeply about my ninth graders, 10th graders and 11th graders focusing so much on preparing for college and not the high school experience.”

It’s true, traditionally, for college-bound kids, freshman year has been about just getting used to the whole high school experience, sophomore year has been about getting solid in your activities/classes/friend groups/what not, junior year has been about putting your nose to the academic grindstone, and senior year has been about college apps first semester, and acceptances/senioritis second semester. It’s bad enough worrying about college

Still, with college admissions being as competitive as they are, it does make sense that schools would look for ways to enable enterprising students to get a jump on the application process. Here’s hoping that the coalition can get the kinks worked out so that this system makes sense to both college admissions and counselors (and, of course, the students applying!)


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