ApplicationsOnline Launches New Universal Common Application

Like previous years, the Senior Class of 2008 spent time over the summer filling out the Common Application online. The CommonApp method is popular because of its convenience and applicants can use the application to apply to multiple schools at once. However, the newly established “Universal College Application” now rivals it. A web development company called ApplicationsOnline, based in Baltimore, brought the Common Application online in the late 1990’s. The move online transformed and simplified the college process for many seniors by eliminating the hassle of mailing paper applications to each college. This past year, however, The Common Application group stopped using ApplicationsOnline and switched to a larger online provider called AY Software Services. Shortly after the switch, Josh Reiter, the founder of ApplicationsOnline, began to create a new online college application, now known as “The Universal College Application.” The Universal College Application (UCA) was officially launched on June 27. Gradually, colleges have become members of the UCA group, including 16 colleges agreeing to accept the UCA just a few weeks after the launch. Currently 35 schools accept the UCA, including Harvard, Duke, and Johns Hopkins, where Reiter is an adjunct faculty member. The UCA’s goal in creating a new application is to be more inclusive in its membership, to expand the numbers of students utilizing the service and to increase the accessibility of various institutions. The Common App favors private institutions and the key aim of the UCA is to make public universities more accessible to students who might not otherwise consider them so. Likewise, the UCA seeks to make private universities readily available to students only considering public universities. So far, however, only two of the 35 colleges signed up for the UCA are public institutions. The differences between the two online applications may not be obvious at first. Both applications have the same basic outline, which is not surprising considering the same employees of ApplicationsOnline created the two services. However, there are a few prominent differences that will ultimately determine the success of each service. The Common Application, which currently has 315 member schools, requires schools seeking membership to undergo a review by a board of directors before being approved. The new UCA, headed by Reiter, will accept any college that holds membership with the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) or has been approved and accredited for upholding the NACAC’s Statements and Policies of Good Practice. Another major difference between UCA and the Common Application is the UCA’s lack of requirement of letters of recommendation and essays—elements that the Common App calls for to allow for a broader and more encompassing consideration of a potential student’s application. The lack of letters of recommendation and essays by the UCA is the result of an effort to make the college process more accessible, especially to, according to the organization’s website, “applicants with varying social and economic backgrounds.” Many public universities don’t require essays and recommendation letters, and the Common Applications requirement could potentially be seen as a discouragement to students planning to apply exclusively to public universities. Response to the introduction of the controversial new online application is mixed. While John Anderson, director of College Counseling at Phillips Academy, admits he doesn’t know a lot about the new venture, he said, “[Reiter’s] new creation seems a mixture of revenge and a goal to grow larger by being more inclusive.” Many colleges, including Yale University, plan to wait for UCA to develop further before deciding whether or not to seek membership. Whether or not UCA will become another form for Seniors to routinely fill out is yet to be seen. Anderson said, “[As of now,] I cannot say I am thrilled with this new application. It adds one more element of uncertainty in a world already crowded with uncertainty. I don’t see the UCA adding to the process. It is one more occasion for an already nervous Senior to wonder if using the UCA will help or hurt his or her chances of getting into the college they love most.”