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Universal College App Offers Alternative to Common App

When high school seniors think about applying online, many will turn to the Common Application for Undergraduate Admissions, which is accepted by 463 colleges. But there is a lesser-known avenue—the Universal College Application or UCA with 60 member colleges.

Just as the Common App opened for the season on Aug. 1, the UCA went live on July 29 accepting applications for 2011-12.

The UCA was launched in 2007 by ApplicationsOnline, a for-profit venture based in Baltimore. ApplicationsOnline was the tech provider for the Common Application's online service, but when its work was not renewed, the company decided to develop its own version.

The idea was to "do it differently and do it better," says Joshua Reiter, president of Applications Online. The big difference on the surface is that the UCA does not mandate colleges require essays, evaluations, or recommendations—they can, but they are not required. By not dictating colleges' admissions philosophy, the UCA says it promotes a broader applicant pool.

It also works to distinguish itself with its customer service. Average response time on tech support is under five minutes, and live people are available 24/7 to answer questions, says Reiter.

One feature that sets UCA apart is the ability of students to include a link to their online content—a YouTube video, website, social-networking page, or news article. This solves a headache for colleges that get thousands of CDs and videos mailed into admissions offices for review, says Reiter.

Still, the Common App, a nonprofit around since 1975, is the dominant player with 49 new schools added this year. UCA membership includes Harvard, Duke, Johns Hopkins, and this year two new schools: Coppin State University, a historically black college in Maryland, and Bay Path College in Massachusetts.

Reiter says the gap in college participation is a matter of getting the word out about its service. Institutions don't have to choose one service over the other; some accept UCA and Common App forms. With both, there is no cost to the student to complete the forms online. They only pay the school's application fee, and colleges pay to be part of the services.

While the Common App reports that 2 million applications were submitted online last year, UCA, citing proprietary reasons, does not release figures.

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