When junior biology major Essence Slater was applying to colleges in high school, her counselor advised her to pursue colleges that use the Common Application. But when she transferred, the University of Maryland was the only school she applied to.
"Being able to do just [this university's] application was okay, but if I [were] to apply to other schools it would have been too much," Slater said.
This university has never used the Common Application. In the past, students had to apply using this university's unique platform, but as of this fall, prospective students can apply with the Coalition Application.
Students can use the platform to apply to more than 90 colleges in the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success, which includes Penn State University, Ohio State University and Northwestern University.
The application features three components this university's previous application did not: The application platform where students can apply to schools in the coalition, a "locker" where students can store relevant documents such as essays or awards that might help them in the application process and a "collaboration space" where students can share essays with a counselor or professor and ask for feedback.
Director of Undergraduate Admissions Shannon Gundy said this application is beneficial to both students and application reviewers.
For students, it provides a simpler, more organized way to apply to multiple schools, Gundy said.
"The ability to apply to 100 schools versus one I think is remarkable," Gundy said.
Freshman biology major Makayla Brown said the application will encourage high school students to apply to more colleges.
"I know I was lazy and I didn't feel like doing each individual application so I didn't finish a lot of my applications," Brown said.
The application also gives lower-income or underrepresented students access to resources their high schools might not offer, including a way to organize their application materials, Gundy said.
"A lot of the communities that we're recruiting in and working from don't have these tools already," Gundy said.
Some students in well-resourced schools may not have to use the locker or collaborative space, but for students in schools without guidance counselors or mentors to help guide them, the application "gives them a free tool that they can use in order to help students through the college application process," Gundy said.
For members of the application review committee at this university, Gundy said the switch to the Coalition Application makes the reviewing process easier because it is "very clear" and "very clean." This will help the committee better manage the number of applications this university receives.
In fall 2016, this university received 38,018 undergraduate applications, according to this university's Institutional Research, Planning and Assessment office, and 18,650 of those students were admitted.
Once the Undergraduate Admissions office receives required materials — official transcript, standardized test scores, two letters of recommendation, a resume of activities, an essay, the application itself and an application fee of $75 — students are reviewed under a holistic review process, Gundy said.
For each student, application reviewers consider 26 factors, including high school achievement, grades, standardized test scores, extracurricular activities, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, family educational background and whether English is their second language.
These factors are not a "checklist," Gundy said. For example, if a student speaks English at home, it won't be a factor the reviewer needs to consider. It becomes a factor if a student speaks a different language at home.
"That means something, that impacts who the student is," Gundy said. "It impacts in some cases how they performed on standardized tests. It impacts some of the experiences they've had in their lives, so that's something we want to know and we want to be able to consider as part of our process."
University President Wallace Loh said there are many factors that go into any individual's success.
"This notion that we should select people for anything, for jobs, for admission, based solely upon a three-hour test, and your GPA, only on that, it makes absolutely no sense," Loh said. "It's just too narrow of a conception of human ability and human potential."
A holistic review process helps achieve a more diverse student body, said Julie Park, a university education professor whose research interests include college admissions and racial diversity and equity in higher education.
There are persistent racial or economic inequities in standardized tests, as well as in access to resources and schooling experiences, Park added.
"It costs a certain amount of money to buy a house in a certain school district," Park said. "Even those standardized metrics themselves are not neutral, so something a more holistic review allows admissions officers to do is take those things into context to know that there are historic inequities that shape different people's access to certain resources."
Gundy said this university "rigorously" reviewed its application process — updating its undergraduate admissions philosophy statement and the factors considered in admissions — at the time of the 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger case, where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the University of Michigan Law School could use race as a factor in the admissions process because it is reviewed with other considerations.
Although race is one factor considered in the admissions process, this university does not use an affirmative action policy, Gundy said.
Cornell Law School postulates affirmative action is "a set of procedures designed to eliminate unlawful discrimination between applicants, remedy the results of such prior discrimination, and prevent such discrimination in the future."
Students are assessed "holistically" to see who they are and what they can offer to this university, Gundy said.
"We are conscious that we want a racially diverse student population, so race is one of the factors that we consider but it's in the context of [other factors]," Gundy said. "That factor in and of itself is never going to be the determining factor about why we choose to offer admission to a student or not."
In fall 2016, 43.4 percent of all undergraduate students at this university were racial minorities, according to IRPA.
Over the summer, an internal announcement from the U.S. Justice Department asked for lawyers interested in working on "investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions," which many think refers to affirmative action programs.
Based on previous Supreme Court rulings and legal precedent, Gundy said she is not worried that this university's undergraduate admissions process is "questionable" or "problematic."
"We're in good legal standing," Gundy said. "I'm pretty confident about that."