MIT will not join CAAS, likes flexibility of its app

Discussions to modify MyMIT underway

MIT will not be joining the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success (CAAS), an organization of more than 80 colleges and universities that offers an alternative to the Common Application and seeks to help underserved students during the college preparation process.

Reflecting the belief that “early engagement supports under-resourced students,” CAAS offers an application platform similar to the Common Application, with the addition of a virtual “locker” that students can use beginning in ninth grade to store personal reflections, artwork, letters of recommendation, and other items possibly useful for applying to college. It also has a “collaboration” feature that allows students to share these items with teachers, counselors, and mentors.

According to Dean of Admissions Stuart Schmill, MIT is “very happy” with its own application. “We like having the flexibility to design our application the way we want,” Schmill wrote in an email to The Tech. “The new Coalition App was developed in large part as a back up to the Common App, and therefore not necessary for MIT.”

However, Schmill said that MIT is “willing to experiment” with new ideas regarding its application process.

“We are having preliminary discussions on redesigning the MyMIT portal and application. It will be a long-term project,” he said.

Schmill cited the Maker Portfolio, which allows students to showcase hands-on projects they have worked on, as an example of MIT’s willingness to experiment.

One of the key goals of CAAS is to aid low-income and disadvantaged students in the college admissions process. According to Schmill, MIT addresses this goal by reaching out to these students, both from the admissions office and through programs such as Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES) and Programs for Research in Mathematics, Engineering, and Science for High School Students (PRIMES).

A blog post on Inside Higher Ed expressed concerns that by involving students in the college admissions process in ninth grade, CAAS will only heighten the stress felt by students. To move the focus of the platform from achievement to growth, the author wrote, “Maybe that ‘virtual college locker’ should require a certain number of screw-ups to be documented,” and students could “describe how that felt, and what they learned from those experiences, what is different about them now.”

Schmill said that some aspects of the MIT application were designed to reduce anxiety. He said that the application was revised about ten years ago to include only five spaces for extracurricular activities, and that the admissions office uses admissions blogs to make the process “as transparent as possible.”

“I think a lot of the anxiety comes from students not knowing exactly what colleges are looking for, and therefore thinking that colleges have outsized expectations for them,” Schmill said.

CAAS was announced in September 2015, so the 2016-17 application cycle will be the first in which it is open to students. The locker and collaboration tools will become available in April 2016, and the application portal itself will open in summer 2016.

CAAS includes Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, all of which also accept the Common Application. In order to become a member of CAAS, a school must have a 70 percent 6-year graduation rate, and private schools must meet students’ full demonstrated financial need.