Q&A: Universal College Applications

Assistant Director, Business Development, ApplicationsOnline, LLC

Have you heard of the Universal College Application? Well, prepare to be informed. It’s comparable to the Common Application, and though a smaller number of schools accept it, you may find it’s the right choice for you. Here, a UCA representative breaks the application down.

What is the Universal College Application (UCA)?

The Universal College Application is a one-to-many online admission application (a "consortium" application, as we call it) for prospective first-year and transfer college students. It is accepted by all UCA member colleges and universities, with a focus on attracting a broad and diverse applicant pool through liberal (i.e., less exclusive) institutional membership requirements.

When and why was the UCA developed?

The UCA was created in 2006 and launched in 2007. Our customers wanted a membership organization that was more inclusive in its membership requirements and was more accessible to underserved students. The UCA was developed based on those wishes and other client feedback to provide participating colleges and universities with a consortium application that is open to all types of students and accredited institutions.

How does the UCA differ from the Common Application?

The core concept of the two is similar, especially since we are the company that originally developed the online version of the Common Application. We make the application process easy to manage for students, their families, and their recommenders, while letting colleges collect and manage the data they need in one convenient place online.

Philosophically, however, the two are quite different. For example, we allow and encourage our members to decide upon their application needs. Essays, supplements, recommendations, and school reports can be designated as required, optional, or not required, and that decision and other similar decisions are made by each individual institution.

We also constantly collect feedback and use it to improve our system, procedures, and processes. No sweeping changes are made without the input of our clients so that we do not deliver anything that is not needed or not wanted, like the removal of essay topics or uploads. We do not dictate. We allow our customers to decide.

What kinds of research and input are used to inform the content and structure of the UCA (i.e., do you make changes to the application based on feedback from colleges and students)?

We always ask and listen to our clients. We conduct surveys of each user type—applicants, recommenders, counselors, and administrators—to gather feedback. We also collect feedback from member colleges and universities during quarterly outreach and aggregate suggestions sent to us at any other time as well. Every feature, function, and form in the UCA was created based upon user and client input for the purpose of meeting their needs.

How many colleges are UCA members?

Currently, 33 colleges and universities of varying size and style are members of the UCA, including Harvard, Johns Hopkins, RPI, and Tulane.

Which colleges/universities are UCA members (you can provide a hyperlink)?

A list of all UCA members is available here, and a list of members still accepting applications for upcoming terms can be found here.

What UCA requirements must colleges meet in order to become member colleges?

They must be accredited, abide by the NACAC Statement of Principles of Good Practice, and agree to evaluate UCA applicants' submissions the same as they would any other application they accept.

There are a few colleges that are members of both the Common Application and the UCA. In such instances, what do you believe is the advantage of applying through the UCA?

While we believe in the ease of use that a consortium application provides, we certainly do not believe our members or applicants are at all "common." To this end, applicants will find it more intuitive to customize application forms sent through the UCA. For example, if they wish to write a completely different essay for one college, or just edit what they wrote for another, we make it easy to copy an existing application, make changes, and quickly submit.

UCA applicants also have the benefit of a 24/7 support system that resolves issues in less than 10 minutes on average.

What benefits are there for students to use the UCA?

In addition to being the only online application for some members, the diverse application requirements and backgrounds of our members make the UCA a place where an applicant can truly find a good fit and apply.

What are some of the features that make the UCA user friendly for applicants?

The application process is already stressful. The online application should not add to this stress. Students should be able to focus on their application content, not on navigating the application system. The major features that make the UCA user friendly are the Checklist, navigation, and form completion process, which were enhanced prior to the 2012–2013 application year.

The Checklist can display a one-glance view of progress on each and every form in an applicant’s workflow and can be expanded to display details on deadlines, recommenders, and other information. With our Checklist, the applicant always knows the correct and current progress of their online forms. 

The interface is consistent and intuitive. After completing the initial Applicant Profile, the applicant will use the same interface to access and complete each and every form in the UCA. Through the use of icons and clear action buttons, we make sure the user knows where to go and what to do next.

What are the primary components of the UCA application?

The primary components of the UCA application are the main application, college-specific supplements (if used), online payment interface (if accepted by college), recommendations, and school reports.

Briefly describe the application process students can expect when using the UCA.

The applicant begins by registering for a free account, at which time the applicant will select a user ID and password so the applicant can save information and return to their account later if needed. The applicant then completes an Applicant Profile.

After the applicant registers and completes a profile, the applicant then selects the colleges and programs to which they wish to apply, which adds the colleges’ specific application workflows to the applicant’s account. The applicant will then complete the UCA application and, if applicable, one or more college-specific supplements. The applicant may then submit the completed applications and supplements to the applicant's selected colleges. The student may also request recommendations and school reports.

As soon as the applicant or a recommender submits a completed UCA application or other form to a selected member, that form, as applicable, is made available to the selected member via the institution's own UCA account.

The Common Application recently decided to do away with “topic of your choice” as an essay prompt. Why has the UCA retained this option? 

Our member colleges and counselors wanted to retain this option. So we did.

When the UCA was created, we determined, based on feedback from our clients and our own experience accepting and processing online admission applications since 1996, the “topic of your choice” was the essay topic most selected by applicants. So we decided that it should also be the only essay topic on the UCA. To date, no member colleges or applicants have requested the addition of other topics.

How many applications can students submit through the UCA?

In general, there is no limit to the number of UCA applications a student can submit, except that any particular student may submit only one application to a particular college.

How does the UCA accommodate member colleges with unique application requirements (e.g., colleges that require an essay versus colleges that don’t)?

It has always been the purpose of the UCA to allow member colleges to specify a broad range of admission requirements. Therefore, our system is designed so that such requirements (or lack thereof) are simply options to turn on or off on our end when updating a college’s information or adding a new member.

Note: Did you know you could win a $10,000 scholarship for college or grad school just by registering on CollegeXpress? This is one of the quickest, easiest scholarships you’ll ever apply for. Register Now »