Nov 6, 2013

11 Excellent Reasons to use the Universal College Application

Harvard University was a founding member of the UCA
This has been a very interesting year for the Universal College Application (UCA).  

Confident in the quality of its product, the UCA has continued in its struggle for market share against the larger and much more powerful Common Application.

And during the past three months, UCA staff has scored numerous points by providing a user-friendly, reliable service in the face of problems plaguing the Common App and other electronic college applications this year. 

And they’ve been rewarded with five new colleges signing up in the past two weeks, including Princeton, Wash U, Tufts University, Trinity College, and Hampshire College.

“This was the first year any of my students used it. It was seamless and exquisitely simple,” said Michelle Lanphere Green, a California-based independent educational consultant. “Teachers’ recs uploaded easy. No lagging between sections. Honestly, this is what the CA4 SHOULD have looked like. I hope to see more colleges joining UCA next year.”

Some of the biggest names in the industry—Harvard, Tulane, RPI, and Johns Hopkins—have been with the UCA from the beginning, and many others quietly acknowledge the superiority of the application for ease of use and overall responsiveness to the consumer.

Yet the notion that the Common App brings more in customers—applicants—and carries with it a panache of superiority—membership has its benefits—has left the UCA to swim against the tide of colleges that sheepishly rushed to join the ranks of the increasingly less “common” Common Application.

And until this year, no one stopped to think what the impact will be on college admissions if one application product is allowed to force all competitors out of business by using aggressive pricing policies and wielding influence through organizations supporting the industry as a whole.

Colleges may complain off the record, but they’ve continued to support an application that isn’t always responsive to them, counselors, or student applicants. And they signed up with an untested product which neglected to provide a backup plan in the event of failure.

While the Common Application continues to tweak its system and send daily updates on “known” problems, the computer geeks behind the UCA have stepped up their game by adding a number of enhancements to their application.

And here are a few reasons you might consider switching to the UCA:
  1. Membership.  The UCA currently has 37 member colleges and universities including recognizable and very selective institutions (see above).  And the UCA is continuously open to adding new colleges any time during the application cycle.
  2. Distinction.  Using the UCA sets your application apart from the ubiquitous Common Application.  Think what it must be like to read thousands of documents that follow the same format and look exactly alike.  Frankly, it must be a relief to see someone thinking outside the box and going the extra mile to use a different form with different features.
  3. Functionality.  The UCA website now automatically scales for tablets and mobile devices.  Based on feedback from consumers, user interface has been improved and it’s now even easier to navigate and track progress.  In addition, the UCA works just fine on Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera, or Internet Explorer.  And the UCA has never once experienced a system-wide crash or slowed down because of jammed servers.
  4. Customization.  Applicants can easily create an application to submit to one or more colleges and can just as easily copy, edit or modify to submit to one or more additional colleges. And this is an amazing tool if you want to signal a little extra love in your personal statement or customize standardized test scores to reflect a college’s policy on Score Choice or test-optional reporting. By the way, counselors are also free to customize their recommendations.  With the UCA, there’s no need for a counselor to remain tied to a “generic” document.  If there’s specific information a counselor wants conveyed about an applicant to a particular college, they can submit one recommendation and then easily copy/edit to send something different to another school. And colleges really appreciate having a recommendation that speaks directly to them.
  5. Document Uploads. Unlike the competition, the UCA still allows students to upload documents into the application.  There are no wonky direct entry text boxes or formatting limitations dictated by software limitations or anonymous decision-makers who actually want every application to look alike.  And students are free to edit or change their personal statements however many times they want.  The UCA refuses to dictate to students what their essays look like or how many versions they can create.
  6. Autosave.  UCA forms autosave every few seconds so applicants don’t have to worry about losing data if something happens before they are able to save manually. 
  7. Express Delivery.  Applications, recommendations and school reports/transcripts are delivered immediately as soon as the applicant, counselor or teacher clicks “Submit.”  It is not UCA policy to hold documents pending payment by the student.  If an applicant never submits their application online or chooses a different product, supporting documents from counselors or teachers are still sent to the admissions office—free of charge to the applicant, the recommender, or the college.
  8. Multimedia.  Applicants can include a link within the body of the application to provide colleges with additional information that can be found online.  This could be a personal website, video, news story, an art portfolio or any other online content.
  9. Resume.  Because the UCA continues to provide for document uploads, applicants are free to submit resumes as part of their application.  While not every college necessarily wants to receive a resume, this flexibility allows the student the option of sending a document a college can choose to include as part of their review process or not.
  10. Personal Statement.  The essay prompts used by the UCA are sufficiently broad to include most topics including the perennial favorite, “topic of your choice.”  There are no plans to change or otherwise limit this question next year, and the 500-word limit will remain a guideline and not a rule.
  11. Paper.   The UCA continues to make paper versions of all their application forms available for download directly on the UCA website.  As counselors and applicants have found, paper applications are useful for working on rough drafts or for going over general content requirements in group presentations. 
As an additional service, the UCA provides a First Marking Period Report and an electronic Early Decision agreement both of which come in handy for students applying early. 

But most important, the UCA Technical Support team is at your service.  Along with a comprehensive “knowledgebase,” experts stand ready to patiently answer any questions you submit online.  And they really do answer immediately.

For more information on the Universal College Application or to open an account, visit the UCA "new and improved" website. 

It’s just a different route to the same end.

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