Universal College App Vs. Common App: Which to Use?
Applying to college can be stressful and time consuming—high schoolers need to gather transcripts, solicit letters of recommendation, craft an attention-grabbing essay, all while maintaining a college-worthy GPA and keeping up with their extracurricular activities. Only adding to the overwhelming feeling is the number of colleges today’s high schoolers apply to. According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, 36% of college freshmen applied to seven or more colleges in 2015. Ten years prior in 2005, only 17% of freshmen had applied to seven or more institutions. Seeking to streamline the application process and reduce application-induced anxiety are the Universal College Application (UCA) and the Common Application (CA), which allow students to apply to multiple schools using a single application.
The Common Application
The most established and widely used application for applying to multiple schools is the Common Application. Established in 1975 with just 15 schools participating in the initial year, the CA is now used by more than 800 college and universities, including all eight Ivy League schools. Not bound to the United States, the Common Application is used in 20 countries, including Canada, the United Kingdom, France, and China.
The Universal College Application
Similar in focus to the Common Application, the intent of the Universal College Application is to ease the process of applying to college. The UCA is significantly younger than the CA (it was created in 2007) and is currently used by only 18 colleges and universities, including Harvard, Princeton, and Cornell.
Similarities between the Universal College App and Common App
The primary similarity between the Universal College Application and the Common Application is that they both serve to make applying to college easier and less time intensive by creating a single, centralized college application. This allows students to apply to multiple institutions using one application, rather needing to fill out separate applications for every school they apply to.
Another trait shared by the UCA and CA is that the majority of institutions that accept them are private institutions. Large public universities commonly employ their own online admissions systems.
Pros and Cons of the Universal College Application
One of users’ favorite aspects of the Universal College Application is its fast and intuitive interface which includes an autosave feature that prevents applicants from losing information and having to redo forms. Another trait of the UCA interface that’s appreciated by applicants is the ability to edit their essay after it’s been submitted (anyone who’s caught a few small mistakes on their essay after the fact will attest to the value of this feature). Additionally, because the UCA is newer and serves fewer schools, if you run into a technical problem or need support, the UCA is typically quicker to respond than the competition.
The Universal College App also feels more at home in the digital age and allows computer-savvy students to highlight their talents in a way unavailable on the Common Application. On the UCA, applicants can share links to a newspaper article they wrote, a film they created, or a blog they maintain. Using the multimedia section of the UCA also allows student athletes to share a highlight reel or aspiring musicians to upload a performance clip.
A personal essay is not required to complete the Universal College Application, although it does have an essay section if the school a student is applying to requires one. Unlike the Common Application, which has seven essay prompts for applicants to follow, the UCA’s essay topic is open ended. This offers students greater flexibility in what they want to write about and allows students with a great topic to pursue it.
The biggest downside to choosing the Universal College Application is that not many schools accept it. Currently, only 18 schools are using the UCA. The Common Application simply gives students more flexibility. Wondering if the schools you’re interested in applying to accept the Universal College Application? Find a complete list of UCA schools here.
Pros and Cons of the Common Application
The main appeal of the Common App is its universality—it’s accepted by more than 800 schools across 20 countries! Here is a comprehensive list of all the schools that accept the CA. With a 40+ year history, the CA is well established in addition to being widely used. Because the CA has been in existence for such a lengthy period of time, most high school guidance counselors and teachers are familiar with it. This both makes it easier for them to help you if you have questions and also means that they’re likely to know how to fill out sections like letters of recommendation.
The Common Application can be easier for students applying to schools that require personal essays and letters of recommendation. And, while some students will prefer the open-ended essay found on the UCA, other students will appreciate the structure provided by the CA’s essay prompts.
One of the biggest complaints about the Common Application is that its interface is slower and less intuitive than the Universal College Application interface. Along with being less user-friendly to navigate, once an applicant hits the “submit” button on the CA, all information is locked. There’s no going back to fix a mistake in your essay like you can with the UCA.
Lastly, because the Common Application is used by so many schools, it receives a massive number of applications. In 2016, more than a million applicants used the CA. Due to the enormous amount of users, if a problem occurs, it might not get sorted out as quickly as it would if you were using the UCA—meaning don’t wait until the last minute to submit applications if you’re using the CA.
Should I Use the Common App or the Universal College App?
The Universal College Application is a great choice if you’re only applying to schools that accept the UCA and you prefer the interface and features of the UCA. The Universal College App is also a good choice for students who prefer the usability of the UCA and are applying to a combination of schools that accept the UCA and don’t accept either the UCA or the CA—like Georgetown, MIT, and Rutgers.
The Common Application is ideal for most students due to the fact that it covers vastly more schools than the UCA. Also, because the majority of schools require an essay and letters of recommendation, using the CA streamlines the application process since these sections are required on the CA.
Whether you choose to use the Common App or the Universal College App, CollegeVine can help you craft an application that admissions officers will notice. Students enrolled in our College Application Program get one-on-one assistance in everything from building an impressive college profile to crafting a winning essay. We even help students stay on schedule, meet important deadlines, and avoid hitting the “submit” button at the eleventh hour.
Want more college admissions tips?
We'll send you information to help you throughout the college admissions process.