There are several different online platforms through which universities accept applications. While the Common Application is still the strong favorite, the Coalition Application seems to be gaining in popularity, and the Universal College Application has several interesting features.
All of these platforms allow students to create a centralized college application and use it to apply to several colleges, saving time. Each online application approach includes an applicant profile, list of member colleges, checklist to see the status of applications, and application requirements; but the overall look and formatting differs.
Colleges decide which platform(s) they wish to accept, and this blog will be your guide to understanding the differences between all of them. At the end, we will recommend a course of action.
Accepted by over 750 member colleges, the Common Application (CA) is still the most popular platform for the college application process. Most members are in the U.S., but an increasing number of colleges around the world are accepting the Common App, including schools from Canada, China, and the UK (including St Andrews, King’s College London, and the University of Glasgow).
Additionally, the Common App has a rollover feature that conveniently allows students to begin working on their profile before August 1 of their senior year. The platform is user-friendly and has been around for a while, so many high school counselors and educators are well-versed in using it.
Universal College Application
The Universal College Application (UCA) was launched in 2007 as an alternative to the Common App, and currently has 23 member colleges. The only schools that exclusively use UCA (and not the Common App) are the University of Charleston (WV), Fischer College, Landmark College, and the Milwaukee School of Engineering.
The UCA platform has the advantage of allowing applicants to make essay edits even after submission, which is great if you catch a mistake. This platform also lets applicants link to online content in order to share more information, such as online video, portfolio (pictures or photographs), musical composition, or newspaper article.
The Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success was developed in 2015 in order to provide greater access to college applications for under-resourced students. A notable feature of the Coalition application is the Locker, in which students can begin storing documents, photos, and videos in 9th grade, which can later be attached to the Coalition college application. This information could include essays, artwork, and performances, as well as standardized test scores and awards. The Coalition feels that gathering this information early will reduce stress later.
The application has steadily grown in popularity, with over 113 participating colleges at present. 19 additional colleges will accept the application in 2018/2019, including Brown, Bucknell, Cornell, and UVA. As of the 2017-18 application cycle, the only colleges to exclusively require the Coalition Application were the University of Florida, University of Washington, and the University of Maryland.
UCAS (United Kingdom)
For international students, UCAS has traditionally been the UK’s centralized application form for higher education institutions. Notably, UCAS limits students to a maximum of five university programs. You are also limited to one school in all of the Oxford and Cambridge’s colleges, known collectively as Oxbridge. Several international schools have joined the Common App as part of a strategic effort to increase the presence of US students on campuses. These include King’s College London, St Andrews in Scotland, and Queen’s University Canada. More international students are now using the Common Application, which has the much greater limit of 20 total universities.
A critical difference between the UCAS application and the Common Application involves the essays. UCAS includes only one essay, the Personal Statement, that focuses entirely on academics; the prompt asks students to discuss their chosen academic course(s), why it interests them, and why they are suitable. In contrast, the Common Application Personal Essay can be about any topic of the student’s choice; and colleges typically have supplemental essays that are specific to their universities.
For an in-depth look at how to apply to UK universities, see our blog.
Individual College Application
In addition, several schools continue to have only their own application and do not accept any of the shared applications. The motivation is to weed out students who are not genuinely interested in the college, and to customize the application and essays. A few examples are Clemson University, Georgetown University, and the University of Wisconsin.
A few other colleges accept a shared application as well as their own application. Tulane has had its own application since it began in 1834, and several years ago began accepting the Common Application.
State System-Shared Application
Some schools like New York’s SUNY system and the California state universities share an online application platform that allows students to apply to one or more public colleges within their network.
While each student’s situation is unique, overall we recommend the following:
Use the Common Application wherever possible. Perhaps a decade ago, when the Common App was not as widely accepted, we may have recommended that you use a college’s own application, if available, in order to demonstrate interest. But with 700 member institutions, the Common App is now valued by colleges as strongly as their own application.
Coalition Application. Use this application platform if you feel that it would be helpful for you to start saving documents, artwork, and video content in the Locker, beginning in freshman year.
UCAS. Use this universal UK platform if you are applying to two or more UK universities that do not accept the Common Application.
When you have a choice, choose based on the essays. If you’re applying to a college that accepts multiple application platforms, examine whether the essay options are different, and choose the option that matches your needs.
For example, St Andrews (Scotland) accepts UCAS and the Common Application; if you apply through the Common Application, you can personalize your essays more. You will have the opportunity to submit your Common App Personal Essay (which can be more creative than the UCAS Personal Statement) as well as a supplemental essay about why you are a good fit for St Andrews. The UCAS application does not allow for any university-specific essays.
Navigating your online applications and knowing how to best represent yourself as a college candidate can be daunting. Here at Collegiate Gateway, we’re always happy to help! Feel free to contact us.