Nov   2015



Welcome to the Uncommon App

Author, College Admission Expert, Valley Prep Tutoring Services
Last Updated: Jan 28, 2019

The Common Application, the college application collective tool used by more than 600 colleges and universities, has become such a major player over the past several years that some consider it a monopoly. Well, get ready, because starting in 2016, a new player on the board is making the rounds, and not it's not just interested in passing "Go" to collect $200.

By providing a common application portal, students have been able to research and apply to schools that otherwise may not have been on their radar. Fair enough: connecting the applicant mass market and low-income student tiers to colleges makes perfect sense. There are some noticeable absences from the Common App, however, including schools within the University of California system, all eight Ivies, and more. The buzz among counselors pertains to whether or not these elite colleges ever intend to make themselves more . . . common.

Well, it looks like we might have our answer.

In October 2015, a group of 83 public and private schools announced that they are forming the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success to encourage more low-income students to apply to these schools. The coalition includes all eight Ivy League schools and a number of other prestigious universities. These include both public and private schools, including Stanford University and the University of Chicago; liberal arts colleges like Swarthmore, Amherst, and Williams; and leading public institutions like the University of Virginia, the University of Michigan, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The CAAS will offer an application process similar to the Common App, with additional online tools to guide students and give them advice regarding the application process, and an online college application portfolio that the student can begin filling out as early as his or her freshman year of high school.

A fair number of parents working with my GATE System report seeing the changes as "Orwellian," since the new application encourages creation in something they call a "Locker" starting in ninth grade.

"Students already stress out so badly starting in eleventh grade, I can't believe they want to move this earlier!" said one exasperated mom in my office last week, relieved that her last child, a junior, would be spared this little hurdle. I noted that the PSAT now targets middle school students, so the trend does not seem to be abating anytime soon. The parents of teens determined to attend top schools need to remain vigilant and informed in this dynamic time for higher education in America.

The CAAS announcement has left many befuddled. If you've been reading my blog, you may already be aware that accessibility to historically "elite" schools has been a hot topic over the past year. Case in point: the Obama directive regarding financial aid with the hope of making the application process more inclusive for both universities and students from lower income families. Many counselors and admission officers have been left wondering if this coalition is just a means of jumping on a bandwagon to increase visibility with no tangible benefit afforded to the applicants.

According to the Washington Post, three member of the new coalition recently presented statements to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) regarding their decision to, well, collate. The statements they released indicate an inspiration in response to dissatisfaction with the Common App and claims that the Common App "monopoly" dictates parameters to the extent that the application no longer belongs to the school. With a constituency of approximately 600 schools, the Common App hardly seems like a monopoly. If reputation precedes some of these newly collated schools, perhaps the problem lies in the commonality of the Common App. Perhaps they want to remain separate but become more visible? Understandably, many schools will have a problem with outsiders dictating what can be included in the application process, but apparently, nobody puts Ivy in the corner.

Are the schools involved in the new coalition using the Common App platform to maintain that they are not common? It's a well-known fact that many private, prestigious universities carry the lowest percentage of the weight of low-income students. The announcement of their unification for the application process has left many counselors wondering how, exactly, this is going to help accessibility to the lower socioeconomic demographic. Many of the schools in the coalition have a history of including need as part of their selection process during admission.

If the new "Uncommon App" is designed specifically to increase the accessibility of the schools to a more comprehensive range of students, then why is there such an enormous rejection rate for Pell applicants in recent years? How cruel it would be to encourage such students to apply with no intention of admitting them.

It's no secret that the Ivies and a few other prestigious, smaller liberal arts school expect students to start following a career and application plan starting as early as eighth grade. Students must fill their summers with internships, specific volunteer work, and career-related course work in addition to planning their academic schedules for high school before high school starst. However, this information has actually been a secret for many students whose parents have not been to Ivies themselves.

Having grown up in the farmlands of Virginia, with parents who never graduated college, I consider it my personal mission to help level the playing field. The good news is that the optional portfolio section of the CAAS is, at the very least, letting those outside the secret circle know that if they want a competitive application to one of these schools, junior year volunteer work is not going to make the grade. I sure wish someone could enter a Marty McFly time machine and come find me in 1979 to explain the way all of this works.

My team and I are dedicated to solutions for this quandary, and one way we're looking to help is through the miracle of technology. Check out our GATE Indiegogo campaign to access free or 50% discounted services related to SAT and ACT prep, essay mentoring, help with building a school list and completing applications, and more. We will be live until January 4, 2016, and with your help, we can make a difference for many.

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

About Pamela Donnelly

Pamela Donnelly

Pamela Donnelly is a #1 bestselling author (SWAT Team Tactics for Getting Your Teen Into College), speaker, and educational expert whose work can be viewed at As Time magazine's go-to college admission expert, she has appeared on regional and national television, and Larry King has endorsed her recently published book, 4 Keys to College Admissions Success.

Donnelly is a frequent speaker at live events throughout the greater Los Angeles region and a passionate advocate for education reform. She graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia University with degrees in literature/writing and secondary education, and she has been called "the Suze Orman of education." A professional educator for more than 20 years and a former on-camera talent under contract to ABC-TV, she is the academic expert trusted by some of the most discerning and notable parents in Los Angeles.

A mother of three, Donnelly leads a team of Ivy League educators, helping parents go the extra mile to ensure their teens' transition to colleges of their dreams.

Her brick-and-mortar business, Valley Prep Tutoring Services, Inc., is the hub from which all of Donnelly's brand-related products and services flow. You can visit and for more information.


Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
CollegeXpress Logo


Are you our next winner?

Register now for our scholarship giveaway