As executives from Common App colleges and universities gather for a members-only conference taking place today and tomorrow in Washington, D.C., six long-time members—including three formerly “exclusive” members—announced yesterday they will be joining the Universal College Application (UCA) for 2014-15.
Brandeis, Colgate, University of Chicago, the College of Mount Saint Vincent, University of Rochester, and Wilson College, along with 12 additional institutions that came onboard with the UCA late in the 2013-14 application cycle, represent a growing group of colleges looking for backup support while actively concerning themselves with issues of reliability, ease-of-use, and customer service.
And they signed up with the UCA knowing full well there would be no change in the Common App’s controversial three-tier pricing policy, which is specifically designed to discourage competition within the application industry.
"Brandeis has a historical commitment to access, and we are very concerned that the practices of the Common Application are poorly aligned with that outlook,” said Andrew Flagel, Brandeis Senior VP for Students and Enrollment. “We are very pleased to add the option of applying to Brandeis through the UCA to ensure that we have diverse and robust options for students to apply."
In an email to member colleges and universities last March, the Common App admitted that its pricing policies were causing problems for some institutions.
“The challenges of this year and feedback we have received from members have led the board to question if our current policy of differentiating Common Application membership between Exclusive and Non-Exclusive users serves our members well,” explained the Board notification to members. “There is consensus on the Board that changes need to be made to the pricing structure in the future.”
These issues were underscored in complaints voiced to the Common App during “phonecasts” for Chief Admissions Officers, held in April, just prior to deadlines for membership renewals.
Nevertheless, the Common App Board of Directors decided to stick with its plan to charge non-exclusive members up to $2.00 more per application if they bring in an alternative—UCA, Hobson’s ApplyYourself, or any other competitor to the Common Application.
But this didn’t stop the six new additions to the UCA membership.
"U Chicago joined the Universal College Application because we wanted to provide a user-friendly application that reduces the stress surrounding the application process,” explained Jim Nondorf, Vice President and Dean of Admissions at The University of Chicago. “We have been very happy with how easy it has been to work with the Universal College Application team.”
Mary Ann Naso, Vice President for Enrollment at Wilson College agrees. "The Universal College Application form itself and the processes that students use to complete the application process are not complicated and are very user-friendly. Those features stood out in our decision to make the Universal College Application available to students interested in Wilson College. We are extremely pleased to be a new member!"
Beyond questions of access and pricing (note that the UCA charges one price without regard to brand loyalty or volume of applications), there is evidence the UCA management team listens to feedback from users. And colleges appreciate responsiveness to their concerns.
For example, application readers wanted easy access to an applicant’s online materials. So the UCA added a feature allowing students to embed links to YouTube, personal websites, or other online media within their application.
Applicants wanted the freedom to format essays and documents. So the UCA continues to provide essay uploads for personal statements as well as any additional information students want colleges to see.
And finally, counselors wanted the ability to walk students through the application form. So the UCA provides easy-to-print paper versions of all forms—including the application.
The UCA also allows unlimited edits to the application and is set-up so counselors can tailor recommendations for particular colleges if they choose.
"Running a large and careful reading operation, all I want to know is that the mechanics can 'disappear' behind a smooth, coherent process so that everyone--students and readers alike--can focus on the actual fit,” concluded Jonathan Burdick, Vice Provost and Dean of College Admissions at University of Rochester. “Knowing applicants will have the option to use the Universal College Application next year is already helping me sleep better!"