Can the Universal College Application Rival the Common App?


Several elite institutions of higher education have made the decision to allow applicants to choose between using the Common Application or an alternative online application because of dramatic technical problems last year for those who applied via the Common App. But that won't include Brown, as Steven Michael, reporting for The Brown Daily Herald, says that Brown University has decided not to sign onto an alternate instrument to the Common App for the coming admission cycle, according to Brown's Dean of Admission Jim Miller.

When the Common App launched its new website, over 800,000 applicants faced numerous glitches. The problems resulted in a number of universities delaying deadlines for early decision and early action programs. The competing application service is called the Universal College Application (UCA), and some of the institutions who have joined include Rice University, University of Chicago, Cornell, Princeton, and Vanderbil. Harvard has been a member of the UCA for some time.

All continue to allow students to submit applications via the Common App.

Shawn Felton, director of undergraduate admissions at Cornell said:

"The advantage of having a second application has been illuminated after last year," Felton said. "The Universal College Application will stay in place for this reason. In life, we don't put all of our eggs in one basket."

One difference between the UCA and the Common App is that applicants can choose their essay topic on their long essay for the UCA, but cannot on the Common App. Bev Taylor, founder and president of Ivy Coach, a New York-based college consulting firm, said that "a lot of creativity was lost" with this decision.

In an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Eric Hoover writes that another plan in the unfolding Common App story is being discussed by an "exploratory committee" made up of representatives of Harvard, Princeton, and Yale Universities, among other schools, who sent out a request for proposals for "an application solution to ensure that students can apply when another application mode experiences difficulties or system failure." 

"There is also interest," the document says, "in establishing a new collaborative option for individual higher-education institutions as they work in their own ways to enroll the very best and most diverse freshman classes they can."

Admissions officials at colleges in the Consortium on Financing Higher Education, known as Cofhe, began discussing the possibility of starting a shared application system of their own, not as a replacement, but as an additional option. At first the group considered inviting only private institutions that meet the full financial need of an accepted student. Later, they decided to include a diverse array including some public schools. Two deans in the consortium said during the College Board's annual conference in Las Vegas that a committee had settled on three potential vendors to build the system.

The University of Pennsylvania will still only accept applications via the Common App because of the low usage of the UCA in the past. Admissions Dean Eric Furda, who is also the chairman of the Common App's Board of Directors, said that he was aware that some colleges prefer to have more avenues of accessibility for applicants, according to Bookyung Jo of The Daily Pennsylvanian. He said that he expected the Common App to be more stable for the next application cycle.

 "There can be system challenges whether you are talking about major post offices or websites," Furda said.

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