The Universal College Application and the Common Application are two different applications that prospective college students can use to apply to the college of their choice. Both ask for similar applicant information and require students to submit recommendations, transcripts, test scores, extracurricular activities and an essay. While there are many similarities between the two applications, there are a few key differences that students should be aware of when trying to decide which application is best for them to use.

Member Institutions

Each application has a list of member institutions that participate in using their specific application. According to the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts, the Common Application allows a membership only to institutions that take a holistic approach in evaluating applicants rather than to institutions that use only test scores and grades. The Universal College Application does not have a membership restriction; rather, it is open to all institutions regardless of their admissions practices. Currently, over 400 member institutions participate in using the Common Application, and over 30 institutions use the Universal College Application. Some institutions use both applications, whereas others choose to use one application exclusively. During the application process, students should consider using the application that includes many of the schools to which they are applying. Using only one application will help make the application process less stressful and allow students to easily access and send materials to multiple schools through one avenue.

General Format

Both applications have online and paper formats from which students may choose. The Denver Scholarship Foundation notes that the two applications are alike in that they ask for similar information. Only a few slight general formatting differences exist. For instance, each application contains different subheadings for the information it wants students to report, and the Universal College Application’s multimedia section provides students the option to include links to websites that might give an institution more information about who they are. Although the page layout is different, students should feel comfortable filling out and submitting either application because the information being asked of them is generally the same.

Essay Format

Unlike the Common Application, the Universal College Application does not provide a variety of essay prompts for students to choose from. Rather, it asks students to write a personal statement. The Universal College Application does acknowledge that member institutions can ask for an additional essay through their required application supplement. Member institutions under the Common Application may have a required supplement, but the supplements do not include additional essays, as the institutions rely heavily on the required essay from the Common Application. Students should also feel comfortable knowing that both applications accomplish the ultimate goal of providing a means for the institution to get to know them better.

What This Means for You

Whether you decide to use the Universal College Application or the Common Application is a personal choice. Many institutions, Harvard College included, accept them both and treat them fairly in the application process.

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