By Jay Mathews
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Since its birth in 1975, the Fairfax-based Common Application has revolutionized the college application process, making it easy to apply to several schools at once. This has been a blessing to students but a curse to some of the college officials who have had to handle the deluge.
Today, a for-profit company based in Baltimore is launching its own online application that it says will give the nonprofit Common Application competition and help more students, particularly low-income students, apply to a greater variety of colleges. It is likely to increase even more the volume of student essays, test scores and activity lists pouring into college admissions offices.
The Baltimore company, ApplicationsOnline, had been the technology provider for the Common Application's online service since 1998. Joshua J. Reiter, president of ApplicationsOnline, said that when Common Application switched to another provider, ApplicationsOnline decided to start a rival service, called the Universal College Application, or UCA.
Thirteen schools, including Johns Hopkins, Harvard and Duke universities and Guilford College, have signed on as founding members of the venture. Reiter said they want his service to reach out beyond the 300 colleges that now accept the Common Application.
"Our intent is to be more inclusive and to attract a broader and more diverse applicant pool, including underrepresented populations and low-income, high-academic students," Reiter said. "We are also reaching out to colleges outside the United States."
Common Application Executive Director Rob Killion declined to comment on the UCA launch. His company changed the application system by persuading many colleges to accept the same application and include subjective criteria such as essays and recommendations. Students could fill out one Common Application and send photocopies to as many colleges as they liked, as long as they could pay all the application fees. The advent of the online Common Application in 1998 made the process even easier.
According to surveys of college freshmen nationwide done by UCLA, 3.2 percent of students applied to seven or more colleges in 1975, the year the Common Application began. By 2006, that portion of prolific appliers had grown to 17.8 percent.
John Latting, director of undergraduate admissions at Johns Hopkins, said: "The significance of the UCA . . . lies in its ambition to increase access to higher education. We look forward to being partners in taking an innovative approach to the issue." He added, "We expect them to use new technology and partnerships with all their college and university members."
Reiter listed several ways the UCA might ease the application process for low-income and other students who are not well represented among applicants. Adding more colleges, particularly public colleges that often do not participate in the Common Application, would be one approach, he said, as would partnerships with organizations that could help applicants get access to computers to use the online service.
He said that unlike the Common Application, the UCA will welcome colleges that do not require recommendations or student essays.
Reiter said his service could also give colleges better information on what types of applicants are showing an interest in them.
But colleges are expected to accept whatever service each applicant chooses. Asked if he preferred the new UCA to the Common Application, Latting said, "We love both equally."