applying to college: common, universal college, and individual applications

Posted : October 9, 2007
Last Updated : August 18, 2014

applying to college: common, universal college, and individual applications

When you have narrowed down your list of schools to which you would like to apply, it's time to decide on the application process. There are three different options from which to choose: the Common Application, the Universal College Application, or individual applications.

Common Application
The Common Application is a standardized admission application that is accepted at over 600 colleges and universities. Membership is limited to colleges and universities that evaluate students based on grades, test scores, teacher recommendations, essays, and campus diversity considerations. The benefit of the Common Application is that it simplifies the college application process by allowing you to fill out one application and sending it to as many Common Application schools as you like. While this cuts down on filling out multiple applications and writing various essays, many schools that use the Common Application still require you to complete supplementary material. Supplements usually contain institution-specific questions and possibly short-answer or essay questions. If a supplement is required, it can be found on the Common Application website or on the institution's website.

The Common Application can be completed online by creating an account. There is no fee to use the Common Application; however, member institutions may require an application fee. For more specific information about the Common Application, visit

Universal College Application
The Universal College Application (UCA) is a standardized admission application that is currently accepted at around 33 colleges and universities. The Universal College Application was developed in order to offer a standardized application that is more inclusive to colleges and universities. While the Common Application insists that their members require at least one essay and one teacher evaluation, the Universal College Application does not tell colleges what they must require of applicants. The UCA only requires that member colleges be accredited and that they abide by the National Association for College Admission Counseling's Statements and Policies of Good Practice. This opens the door for those public institutions that do not require essays or teacher recommendations to participate in a standardized application process.

The Universal College Application process is similar to the Common Application in that participating schools may request supplements. The Universal College Application can be completed in print or online. For specific information regarding the Universal College Application, visit

Institution's Individual Application
While colleges that participate in the Common Application or the Universal College Application must sign a pledge not to give preference to applicants who use the school-specific application, it's probably still a good idea to use the individual application for your top two or three schools. Doing this shows that you care enough to customize your application to those schools. Visit the websites of your top schools to obtain their individual applications and to find out specific information regarding their application process.

If you have questions about these application methods, contact your high school counselor or the admissions offices at your schools of interest.

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