Cappex enters the college application market

Cappex thinks the process of applying to college should be simpler — much simpler.

In a market threatening to collapse under the weight of supplements, portfolios, questions designed to gauge interest or loyalty, fees and fee waivers, Cappex plans to introduce a college application on September 1 that will have none of that.

And while the Common Application and the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success (CAAS) cloak their applications and mission statements in goals targeted to disadvantaged and underrepresented groups, Cappex may actually be on to something.

“In our surveys and conversations with students, we’ve heard that essay supplements and application fees represent huge barriers for application completion,” explained Alex Stepien, president of Cappex. “Our application will simplify the process by doing away with fees, getting rid of repetitive and burdensome supplements and reducing duplication of effort in the process.”

Founded in 2006 by Leon Heller, former CEO of Fastweb.com, Cappex bills itself as a social networking site that connects prospective students with colleges and financial aid resources. The organization has strong links to the scholarship and financial aid communities, listing Mark Kantrowitz, who served as publisher at Edvisors, Fastweb and FinAid, as publisher and vice president of strategy.

Building on a base of about 600 colleges and universities, which currently partner with Cappex, as well as a student audience amounting to approximately one-third of all college applicants each year, Cappex is working to enhance its basic college- and scholarship-matching services by constructing an application platform they believe will streamline the process and make it truly accessible to students considering college for the first time.

In fact, students initially registering for Cappex are already asked a series of questions looking very much like information collected by standard college applications. And in another area of the site, counselors have their own set of application-related tools with student management and tracking capability as well as visuals generated by college-specific “scattergrams”

But still, it’s not an easy year to be entering the college application market. Given the long-time dominance of the Common App along with the continuing availability of the Universal College Application (UCA) and the recent launch of the CAAS, applicants already have quite a few tools from which to choose.

Although they have similar goals, each application has a different place in the market. The Common App offers a diverse membership of close to 700 colleges and universities. The CAAS and the UCA will have about 60 and 40 institutions respectively accepting their applications this fall. At this point, Cappex expects to be somewhere between the UCA and the CAAS in terms of participating institutions but is not ready to release any names yet.

And the Common App boasts of a nonprofit, pioneering role in electronic college applications, while the smaller, more nimble UCA offers state-of-the-art and consumer-friendly software to both applicants and colleges. The Coalition has the advantage of being new and offering a fresh approach based on a three-part platform, including a built-in portfolio development tool. But Cappex is aiming for simplicity, which is what students appear to want most.

“We received feedback about the college application process from students and more than 600 high school counselors,” says an email circulated to counselors and others on the Cappex mailing list. “They identified some key challenges the Cappex Application is designed to address.”

But the long-time relationship between the Common Application and Hobsons which markets Naviance, a tool many school counselors consider essential to supporting their role in the process, may threaten to derail the success of competitors in the industry.

For years, the UCA has been unsuccessful in attempts to establish a relationship with Naviance and more recent communications from the Coalition suggest that they too may be experiencing difficulties breaching the long-time partnership between the Common App and Hobsons. Cappex, while hopeful of establishing a connection with Naviance, has alternate plans for recommendations and document submission — just in case.

In any event, it appears that neither UCA nor the Coalition and Cappex will be fully integrated with Naviance for 2016–17. And this is bound to create push back from schools currently relying on this service.

Nevertheless, Cappex appears ready to tap into a market that’s solid. For 2015–16, over 80 percent of Common App members had no Writing Supplement, nearly 20 percent did not require a personal statement, and over 40 percent charged no application fees. In other words, a substantial number of colleges want a basic, no frills free application that will generate numbers and interest in their institutions.

In terms of specific benefits, Cappex wants its audience to know

  • Students can use the Cappex Application to apply to a range of schools in which they may be interested
  • Instead of repetitive, school-specific essays, students can complete one set of standardize essay questions
  • The application is free, so students don’t need to worry about fees or fee waivers preventing them from applying to every school on their list

According to Stepien, Cappex has already put together a “robust” communication strategy and is beginning the process of beta testing the application with counselors and students in the coming weeks. To learn more about Cappex and get on their mailing list, visit the Cappex website.

This article first appeared on Examiner.com on June 6, 2016.