Reimagining the College Application Process

I’ve spent the better part of the last decade reading thousands of college essays, reviewing countless applications, and helping many high school students navigate the world of college admissions. And here’s one thing I’ve learned from that experience: the college admissions process isn’t easy for anyone, but it’s especially difficult for first-generation and low-income students. Why? Application fees, standardized tests, and emphasis on extracurricular activities favor those who can invest money into the process. Keeping track of deadlines and requirements requires time and high-touch guidance counselors, both of which are scarce resources for many students. And the applications themselves can be confusing, lengthy, and daunting. And don’t even get me started on financial aid! The entire process is shutting out so many students who could contribute so much to our institutions and our workforce. And that’s one of the many reasons I’m so excited about what we’re creating at AdvanceEDU.

Here, we value simplicity. The higher education experience has become unnecessarily complex. But we’re here to shake things up and [gasp] make it simple so that students can focus on what really matters: their degrees and careers.  As Head of Outreach at AdvanceEDU, I believe my job is to simplify the process of getting to college so that students can succeed in college. And I take that role of simplifying this process very seriously. Here’s how we make it happen:

  1. No application fees
    Our application will always be free. Period.

  1. Only one eligibility requirement
    No standardized tests, essays or GPA requirements. The only thing we require from students is that they have a high school diploma or GED. 

  1. Simple application process
    It takes less than 5 minutes for a student to complete the application. We even accept referrals from counselors or advisors in place of the application.  What matters more than the application is whether students fully engage in their free trial period, where they can experience the flexible and deeply supported college firsthand and risk-free. If students can work with us to devote enough time to their studies and begin to address any major challenges they’re facing, we know we can help them be successful in college and career.

  1. We make FAFSA less scary
    The financial aid process can be incredibly stressful for students. We commit to doing the FAFSA with our students (albeit virtually, for now), so they don’t have to navigate it alone. We include families in the process and we help decrease the intimidation factor. If students aren’t eligible for FAFSA, we work with them to ensure they aren’t left with a ton of debt. 

  1. This isn’t a process, it’s a conversation
    Our college experience is designed around caring for students and coaching them every step of the way. So why should the application process be any different? I personally meet with every student to walk them through the process, engaging with them in whatever way makes sense for them. 

Then, once a student has gone through the process, and we have established a trusting relationship, they begin the 8 week onboarding process. During this process, we support them in building competencies to ensure they’re ready to be successful in college. 

The bottom line is that our application process is never meant to leave anyone out–it’s meant to build students up. Our goal is to bring students in and our job is to make the process simple. The application process shouldn’t be the hard part. College is hard enough already!