Common App vs. Universal College App: Which Should You Use?

As if you don’t have enough decisions to make as a college applicant, you also need to decide which college application to use. Should you go with the Common Application or the Universal College Application (or apply directly through the university)? Both allow you to create a consolidated submission that contains your demographic information, extracurricular activities, grade point average, and other important information all in one place. Using either application can also save you time and prevent you from writing the same information over and over again. So what is the difference between the two, and which should you use? Consider the following factors when deciding between the Common Application and the Universal College Application.

Number of colleges served by the Common App vs. the Universal College App

Before you choose which type of application you’d like to fill out, be sure to make a list of the schools you are applying to and check which application they accept.  

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The Common App is by far the more prevalent application, and can be used at more than 600 schools (many of which are private institutions). While both applications allow students to consolidate their application efforts into a single application, the common application does tend to have a more holistic view. This means the Common Application emphasizes factors beyond a student’s GPA, like extracurriculars, test scores, and experience.  

The Universal College Application is a much newer application, meaning that there are fewer schools that accept it. Currently, less than 50 colleges use this application, but this number does include Ivy League schools, including Cornell, Harvard, and Princeton, as well as other reputable private schools.

Materials needed for the Common App and Universal College App

Along with knowing which applications are accepted by the schools you are applying to, you should also take note of the materials required by the schools, as that could sway which application you want to use.

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The Common App is known for looking at the qualifications of the entire applicant, meaning that supplemental items, like essays and letters of recommendation, are required for the application. The Common App only accepts colleges that share the same broad, holistic admissions process, while the Universal College Application accepts any school that is accredited and follows the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s ethical guidelines. If the schools you plan on applying to require letters of recommendation and personal essays, you may want to consider using the Common App, as it can streamline this process. However, there may be some items required by the college that are not included in the Common Application.

A personal essay is not a required component of the Universal College App; however, many schools will end up requiring them anyway. If a personal essay is required by your prospective school, the UCA does not limit your topics to specific prompts—what each student chooses to write about is open-ended. If the school you are applying to accepts either application, and you have a great topic that you would like to write on or the school doesn’t require an essay, you may want to consider using the Universal College Application.

Other considerations when choosing between the Common App and Universal College App

Each application has a few other bonus features that may be more enticing for applicants.

The Common App, for example, has been around for much longer than the Universal College App, meaning that school counselors will have more experience using this type of application and may be in a better position to help you on the Common App if you have questions.  

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On the other hand, the Universal College App opens a month earlier than the Common App, on July 1. If you are looking to get ahead on college applications, this may be a bonus for you. The Universal College App also allows students to link to online content, such as a blog, film project, or a website that you’ve created. Lastly, the Universal College App interface provides a lot of features that can benefit students, such as the ability to edit your submitted content and an auto-save tool. If you prefer the UCA’s user interface, and your prospective schools accept it, consider using the Universal College Application in your admissions.