Common App now has rival in Universal App

Editor’s Note: This column contains material similar to text that appeared in other published work. An Editor’s Note was published in the Feb. 8, 2008, Herald. That Editor’s Note can be found here.

The Common Application has a new rival this year in the Universal College Application, created by the same company that put the Common Application online.

Forty schools, including Harvard, Duke and the Johns Hopkins universities, have adopted the form so far. Aside from the essay and recommendation required by the Common Application, both applications are nearly identical, and colleges are free to use both programs, said Joshua Reiter, the creator of 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.

In 1998, Reiter, the founder of Applications Online, became the first selected vendor to put the Common Application online. In June, after the creators of the Common Application decided to hire a different vendor, Reiter created the Universal College Application.

Reiter put together an advisory committee made up of high school and college advisors, who asked for “something better” to attract “more diversity in applicants,” Reiter said.

Harvard was the first university to join the Universal College Application.

Many large public universities do not require essays and teacher recommendations, which prevents them from using the Common Application. Schools that use the Common Application must require these materials in their applications. In comparison, the Universal College Application asks only that eligible schools be accredited and uphold the guidelines of the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

The Universal College Application allows for greater flexibility than the Common Application and considers the essay and recommendation components of applying “immaterial,” Reiter said.

“If a college, such as Harvard, uses the Universal College Application, they do require recommendations and an essay – at other schools, this is optional,” Reiter said.

Through the Universal College Application, Reiter hopes to encourage first generation college students, underrepresented minorities and low-income students to consider applying to schools they may not have previously considered.

“(Harvard) didn’t want to be exclusive” and sought “more diverse” demographics, Reiter said. “The Universal College Application aims to reach the typical college applicant, plus groups colleges aren’t getting.”

Marlyn McGrath Lewis, director of admission at Harvard, says the school isn’t making any drastic changes to the application process by using the Universal College Application. “We are simply adding to the system that accepts online applications,” McGrath Lewis told The Herald.

Having used the Common Application for 15 years, McGrath Lewis admitted that Harvard is still in a trial period of using the new service, though she looks forward to the ease in usability that the Universal College Application affords to both new applicants and the university itself.

According to Jim Miller ’73, Brown’s dean of admission, the Universal College Application has “pros and cons.”

Miller said the Universal College Application is “an interesting concept” whose “wider range of users” could help the University reach a broader demographic of students than the Common Application. However, Brown has had its own unique application “forever,” Miller said.

The University is still considering whether “to accept both the Universal College Application and our regular application, combine the two or keep Brown’s application,” Miller said.

“There’s a trade-off of the Brown-specific application,” which has information distinctive to the school, “versus questions of access” for less savvy applicants to the College using Brown’s application, Miller said.

If the University decides in favor of adopting the Universal College Application, the application would be implemented in the fall of the 2008-2009 school year, Miller said.