The Common App, The Coalition, The Universal Application, and direct applications: choose the right portal
One of the many complications in applying to universities in the United States is that there is no equivalent of the UK’s UCAS - there is no centralised ‘portal’ for applying to all universities in one go. Instead each university chooses how to accept applications, and many will accept applications through more than one application portal.
With the Common Application, Coalition Application, Universal College Application, applying directly to universities one-by-one and more to choose from, how should an applicant proceed?
Here are the three most important tips:
1. Try to use as few application systems as you can
The likelihood is that the universities to which you are applying will accept multiple application portals, so try to reduce your workload by using as few portals as possible.
The three main multi-university portals - the Common App, Coalition Application and University College Application - are designed to lessen your workload by allowing you to submit ‘common’ elements to each university. This will include information such as:
- Biographical information about the applicant and his / her family
- Educational details
- Extracurricular activities
- Other relevant information
- A standard essay
By using as few application systems as possible, more time can be spent on the crucial university-specific elements of an application rather than on re-submitting basic information in different formats.
Many students will end up using more than one system due to the fact that some very popular universities will only accept direct applications, or have their own system.
For example, any student applying to the University of California system (which includes Berkeley and UCLA) will have to get to grips with University of California application portal, and many other universities use systems based on the CollegeNET platform.
2. Try to use the application system which plays to your strengths
By the time of application most of the data that a student will be applying with (eg their academic credentials) is fixed; the last element to control is making sure that the actual application (eg essays, Letters of Recommendation) is as strong as possible.
As a result, choosing an application portal which gives students the most opportunity to demonstrate their strengths can be very helpful indeed.
The Common App: generalist and lots of universities
The Common Application gives students the ability to present themselves in all areas - there’s space to cover academic, personal and extra-curricular background as well as a wide range of essay prompts to choose from for the Common Application essay.
700 universities accept the Common App.
Universal College Application: generalist with not many universities
The Universal College Application is similar, with a very broad single essay prompt allowing students free rein to choose what they wish to write about.
With only 34 colleges accepting a UCA, however, the chances of being able to use this portal alone are quite small. ‘Universal’ is a bit of misnomer.
Coalition Application: you get a locker but not many universities
The Coalition Application gives students scope to share a range of academic work beyond a simple application, through access to their ‘locker’ of work which can be linked to an application. Students can upload essays, images or videos to their locker to show off what they’ve achieved.
Though some colleges may not be interested in receiving such material, others will welcome the opportunity to assess students based on more than just an application. So if a student wants to present themselves as broadly as possible, this might be the one to go for.
The issue is that only 90 universities accept applications via this portal.
3. Understanding why colleges ask for different things
It’s all too easy for applicants to get bogged down in the tedium of submitting applications, but it is important to take a step back and understand why this information is being asked for.
US universities are often selecting students using different criteria than other university systems tend to use, and in addition the criteria from university to university can range significantly.
Universities are asking for information and materials in different ways and through different portals because it is giving them the information they believe is important in their application process. Don’t assume that there is one ‘US university application process’ with only minor variations. All the information that the colleges ask for is crucial to them making good decisions to build the class of freshman that they are looking for.