Common Application vs. Universal Application: What's the Difference?

Get help deciding between these two centralized college applications.

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The process of applying to colleges can be stressful. You've got essays, letters of recommendation, transcripts, and financial aid to think about on top of classes and extracurricular activities. The Common Application and the Universal College Application (UCA), run by two organizations, have tried to make the process easier. But what is really the difference between the Common App and the UCA? Is one better than the other?

How are they similar?

Truth be told, there are more similarities than differences between the Common App and the UCA. Both offer a centralized application system that makes the admissions process easier, usually. For both, you can apply online or fill out a hardcopy and mail it to the schools.

No one can tell you which application is best for you. But there are certain things you can consider before you make your decision.

Both applications require you to pay the standard application fee set by the individual schools. These fees can be costly but the National Association for College Admission Counseling offers fee waivers to qualified applicants. You can fill out their form and submit a request directly to the schools to which you're applying.

How are they different?

According to their website, the Common App's aim is to provide "reliable services that promote equity, access, and integrity in the college application process." Each of the schools pledges to uphold this philosophy.

The UCA administrators intended for their application to reach a wider applicant pool than the Common App does. So, they don't have a philosophy and they don't require an essay or letters of recommendation. The individual schools may require those additional materials, but the UCA itself does not require them. The Common App, on the other hand, does require an essay and letters of recommendation.

Which option is best for you?

No one can tell you which option is best for you. But there are certain things you can consider before you make your decision.

Common Application vs. Universal College Application: Quick Facts

  • ApplicationsOnline, the company who started the UCA, also created the online portal for the Common App. Since both online applications were created by the same company, they are very alike. So, you don't have to worry about one application being more technologically complicated than the other.
  • Not yet a senior? It may be a little too early to make the Common App vs. UCA decision. But there are other things you can focus on, like preparing for the SAT and doing well in your classes. A strong transcript is one of the most important aspects of the college application for any school.

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