Time Portal: Reality, Not Science Fiction


As universities move more and more toward convenient online interaction with students, they also have extended that so-called convenience to prospective students. They have served up a cafeteria of self-service options and asked students to navigate their way through the complex and time-consuming application process without the guidance of traditional school counselors or independent college consultants.

Forty years ago a group of student-centered colleges created a new idea in the college application process: why, they said, do students have to fill out multiple applications with the same information on each one? Using the technology of the time, they agreed on the basic format and allowed students to photocopy the main body of the application and send it to any of the participating colleges. They even agreed on the essay prompts. That was the birth of the Common Application, and students loved it.

We know the story of the next decades. Technology made the online application better and more accessible. Paper became a thing of the past, and students could manage their applications through the Common App portal, leaving only a few other applications for non-member colleges. The membership of Common App grew to over 700 colleges and universities. Technology allowed great customization, and applications became detailed, relevant to each student’s situation and easy to submit.

You would think that convenience and accessibility are the best they have ever been. You would be wrong.

The same technology that broadened the reach of Common App has now allowed higher education to reach the prospective student with an embrace that suffocates. Each institution has a student portal for managing applications and documents. Some students have to enter the portal at the time they simply inquire for more information. Others enter as they become serious applicants.

Common App members and non-members alike are using portals to gather information, require additional essays and, in many cases, exclude counseling professionals. While it is true that students have to learn to be responsible for themselves in college, they are inexperienced teens and need some guidance and help with organization. Students create accounts with all their prospective colleges and must log in to each one to retrieve messages about their applications. They have to upload documents. They have to write and send additional essays. Often they have to enter their high school transcript information into an online form rather than have their school send it. In return, the college or university sends updates on missing items, information about campus visits, financial aid updates and digital decision letters.

It seems convenient, but is it? Imagine applying to eight colleges and carefully entering your entire high school transcript from ninth grade to senior year on a different form for each portal? Imagine checking the portals each day for messages from eight colleges. Imagine thinking that you have finished the Common App and written an excellent essay only to find that each college expects you to upload more essays or defend your choice of major. The process has expanded to the point where it seems the time needed is more than the time available. The technology that made the college application smoother has also made the process very individualized and detailed. Students have to remember to plan ahead and stay organized.

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