Few schools use new app

The latest arrival on the college application scene, the Universal College Application, is looking for new member schools — but so far, Yale doesn’t plan to be one of them.

Since its inception a year ago, the UCA has tried to make applying to college more accessible for low-income students by reaching out to a wider range of universities than its rival, the Common Application. But despite its emphasis on recruiting low-income students, Yale’s admissions office has so far declined to join, citing the Common Application’s significantly larger membership.

Unlike the Common Application, the UCA grants membership to any school accredited by the National Association for College Admission Counseling that wants to join. The Common Application is open only to schools that require at least one essay and teacher recommendation, among other qualifications .

Because it is accepted by schools ranging from two-year community colleges to private universities, the UCA hopes to facilitate the college applications of a more socioeconomically diverse group of students than the Common Application, UCA President Joshua Reiter said in a telephone interview.

So far, however, few of the nation’s top schools have opted in. Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania, who both used the UCA in its first college admissions cycle last year, are its only Ivy League members.

Given the widespread acceptance of the Common Application, the admissions office sees no reason to switch, Dean of Admissions Jeff Brenzel said.

“Overall, I am not sure that proliferating applications actually serves a meaningful purpose,” said Brenzel in an e-mail. “It could possibly confuse some students as they try to determine which application might ‘advantage’ them most in the admissions process. I would also be concerned about multiplying the application difficulties for students who would have to fill out the Universal App for some schools and the Common App for others.”

Some admissions professionals feel that because of its limited membership, the Common Application tends to exclude low-income students and those who will be part of the first college-educated generation within their families, Reiter said. These students often do not apply to the schools who accept the Common Application, seeing it as an obstacle to their college application process, Reiter added.

“We have been trying to reach out to these students by working with not-for-profits like the Next Generation Venture Fund and the Princeton Preparatory Program,” he said.

Representatives from UCA have started going into under-privileged high schools to talk to students about preparing for and applying to college, Reiter said.

The Common Application is not useful to college applicants looking exclusively at large state schools, for example, said Bari Norman, a private college counselor, adding that she has supported UCA’s goal from the start.

Norman described UCA’s growth over the course of the past year as “unexpected and exceptional.” While it had just 13 member institutions going into last year’s application cycle, it now has 80.

However, UCA still has significant ground to make up if it wants to catch the Common Application, which has 346 members.

Yale, for one, is content to stay with its old system for the foreseeable future, but Brenzel said he might consider adopting the UCA if evidence surfaced that it was drawing more diverse applicants to Yale’s peer schools.

The UCA was started last year by Applications Online, the company that originally put the Common Application on the Internet in 1998. In 2007, when the Common Application decided to hire a different vendor, Applications Online put its software to a similar use with the UCA.

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