Among several enhancements announced by the Common Application for 2017-18, one that seems to respond directly to the need for reduced paperwork and reliance on extraneous document transmission systems is the new Courses & Grades feature. While still a pilot program with participation limited to 12* institutions, the new section follows an industry trend, adopted last year by the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success, toward greater use of self-reported transcript information and has the potential for eliminating dependence on third parties to send such documents either electronically or via the U.S. Postal Service.
For now or at least for purposes of the pilot, the Common App is still requiring that students arrange to have official transcripts sent in addition to completing the Courses & Grades section. Presumably, this is to allow for research on student accuracy, as this is an experiment for the Common App. But it’s not really that new to admissions. A number of institutions, including those in the University of California and Rutgers University systems as well as the University of Washington and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) have been using the “honor system” with great success for years.
“A major advantage of collecting self-reported information through the application process is the match to the applicant’s file,” writes Nancy J. Walsh, UIUC’s director of undergraduate admissions operations, in an article for the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO). “[W]hile the applicants are being asked to do a little more work on the frontend by completing the self-reported academic record, they don’t have to worry about the prospect of a transcript being lost somewhere between the high school and the admissions office, which may make them miss an important deadline. There is certainly less demand on the mailrooms in admissions offices, but on the high school side as well during application season.”
And the data provided by students is usually very accurate. In the case of applicant information, a college can always require that an official transcript be submitted for verification once a student commits to attending. In fact, UIUC reports that only four students had their admission offers rescinded for transcript problems out of almost 7,600 freshmen who enrolled for fall 2015. Other schools requiring self-reported transcripts report similar results.
The Common App’s new Courses & Grades section will be found under the Common App tab of the application, along with Profile, Family, Education, Testing, Activities and Writing. A few qualifying questions will be asked and the student will be provided with an instructional “wizard” designed to walk them through how the section, which is formatted as a grid, should be completed.
In order for a student to use Courses & Grades, s/he must have access to their high school transcript. The transcript must use grades, and the high school must use semesters, trimesters, quarters or block scheduling. Students who fall outside these parameter—those students whose high schools use narratives instead of grades or those with transcripts in a foreign language for example—will not be required to complete Courses & Grades.
The 7 out of 12* original colleges requiring Courses & Grades from students who apply using the Common Application include:
Chapman University, CA
George Washington University, DC
New York School of Career & Applied Studies of Touro College & University System, NY
Ohio State University, OH
Purdue University, IN
University of Southern California, CA
West Virginia University, WV
Again, according to Common App instructions, “Counselors who have a student using Courses & Grades must still send an official transcript for that student (part of the School Report).” Questions about this requirement should be directed to the Applicant Solutions Center.
Courses & Grades will launch with the rest of the Common Application on August 1, after a brief break starting on July 24.l
*7/31/2017: Since this article was originally published, five colleges have dropped out of the program. For 2017-18, only seven colleges will be participating in the new Courses & Grades component of the Common Application.