Common App. faces new online rival

The Common Application faces new competition this year from the Universal College Application, which was created by the same company that originally put the widely used Common Application online.

This admissions season, 35 schools are signed up to participate in the new service, including Harvard, Duke and Johns Hopkins universities. University officials said Yale will not adopt the Universal College Application this year, but will consider the program as its membership grows.

In 1998, ApplicationsOnline, a for-profit Web development company, revolutionized the college admissions process by creating software that allowed prospective students to submit the Common Application, which is accepted at 315 schools, via the Internet. Now, company founder Joshua Reiter is aiming to change how the admissions process works yet again. In June, after the nonprofit Common Application decided to hire a different technology vendor, ApplicationsOnline launched the Universal College Application.

The new form is intended for use by all higher education institutions, from large public universities to small liberal arts schools, Reiter said.

Many large public universities do not require essays and teacher recommendations, which keeps them from using the Common Application, Reiter said. Common Application member schools are must requre these materials in their applications. In contrast, the Universal College Application only demands that the schools it serves be accredited and uphold the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s Statements and Policies of Good Practice.

Reiter said he hopes a broader range of schools using the same basic application will encourage more low-income, first-generation and minority applicants to seek admission to schools they might not have otherwise considered.

“The Common Application is an exclusive club,” Reiter said. “There is a desire for more diversity in both the membership and applicant pool … The requirement for an essay or teacher recommendation should not limit a school’s eligibility to use an application service.”

But a representative for the Common Application defended the company’s choice to require the extra materials.

“The Common Application’s mission is to promote holistic admissions,” said Rob Killion, executive director of the Common Application. “We define that as the use of subjective criteria, as well as objective criteria.”

Apart from the essay and recommendation requirement, the two applications are almost identical, and colleges are free to participate in both programs. Schools wishing to receive essays and recommendations with the Universal College Application can require them as supplemental material.

A Johns Hopkins representative said the admissions staff is eager to see what kinds of students the Universal College Application will draw.

“We feel that using the Universal College Application is a great way for us to open the door to those students who might not have thought about applying to Johns Hopkins before,” said Maggie Kennedy, communications director of the school’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions.

Harvard’s director of admissions could not be reached for comment.

According to Yale College Dean of Admissions Jeffrey Brenzel, Yale will not use the Universal College Application this year, but will review the possibility annually. Brenzel said the University would be interested in using an application shared with a number of public universities, but that “even the small number of current members for the Universal College Application is so far overwhelmingly private.”

Two of the 35 member schools are public universities, according to Reiter.

Stanford University Director of Admissions Shawn Abbott said he thinks the small number of schools using the Universal College Application makes it less useful than the Common Application.

“I’m just not convinced yet that the Universal Common Application would increase access to Stanford,” Abbott said. “I’m not sure that the [new service] was founded to promote access and not simply for competition reasons.”

The Universal College Application has its supporters at Yale, including Trevor Wagener ’11.

“The Universal College Application would be helpful for kids who are in rural areas where they might not be counseled to apply to private schools,” Wagener said. “I am sure that having a consistent application process [between public and private colleges] would encourage more applications to private schools from less-informed applicants.”

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