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What You Need to Know About Different College Applications

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Comparing the Different Types of College Applications

Not only can choosing a college be confusing and overwhelming, once you finalize your college choices you have another decision to make: Which college application should you use?

In the past, each college had its own application. Students had to complete an application for every college they applied to. It was a tedious task and often discouraged students from submitting multiple applications.

Now, students can take advantage of various online applications. But does it matter which application you submit? How do you know which application is the best one for the colleges you apply to?

Each of these application choices has similar components. Some colleges accept all of them and you are free to choose which one you submit. If you are applying to a college with multiple application choices, you may want to contact the college and see if they have a preference. However, most admissions officers will tell you that the application you choose will not give you an advantage or be a disadvantage; so, choose the one that provides the best means of selling yourself to the college.

Here’s a comparison of the different types of college applications.

The Common Application

In 1975, the Common App was introduced as an undergraduate college admissions application offering students the ability to complete just one application for multiple colleges. Students are then able to send this one application to any college that is a Common App member. Currently, there are nearly 700 member colleges.

The Common App consists of several components: the college essay, recommendation letters, an extracurricular activities list, optional supplemental questions, standardized test scores, and the high school transcript. It is an online application that offers students the capability to complete and edit their application before submitting it to multiple member colleges. The Common App now has a “rollover” feature that allows students to open an account anytime during high school.

The Coalition Application

The Coalition App, developed by the Coaltion for Access, Affordibility and Success was introduced last year and now has close to 90 member colleges although only 60 will be accepting it this year. Three of the member colleges – the University of Florida, the University of Maryland-College Park, and the University of Washington-Seattle – will only accept the Coalition app. This is the only application that requires member institutions to meet a set of standards. All member institutions must have a graduation rate of 70 percent or more in six years, and they must offer need-based financial aid.

The goal of this application is let students work in a platform that helps them organize a portfolio early in high school. Students can begin preparing for their applications at any grade in high school and store all components of the application online in a virtual “locker.” Students can also collaborate with mentors during their high school career by sharing materials in their locker. Students will then be able to add these items to their application and submit them with the application.

The Universal Application

The Universal Application, although not commonly used, is another option when applying to any of the 34 member colleges. The Universal College App only requires schools to be accredited and uphold the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s guidelines.

Similar to the Common App and the Coalition App, students only need to complete the application once and use the same application for any of the participating colleges.

Many of the colleges that accept the Universal Application will also accept the Common App.

College Specific Applications

Some colleges, especially private ones, offer a separate application specific to their institution. Colleges and universities that sign on to use the Common Application commit to a non-discriminatory policy regarding how they view the Common App versus their own application. There is no difference between using a school's own application versus the Common App. Many schools, however, do have supplements to the Common App, typically a question or essay that allows you to indicate why you are applying to that particular college.

System-Shared Applications

Some state college systems share a general application that students can submit to all the colleges within the state system. The State University of New York (SUNY) and the University of California are examples of this type of application. Students can apply to multiple schools within the colleges’ system using one application. If a student stays within this system of colleges, it makes sense to use this application type. However, if a student is applying to more colleges outside the system, they would most likely use the Common App.

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Suzanne Shaffer counsels parents and students in the college admissions process and the importance of early college preparation. Her Parenting for College blog offers timely college tips for parents and students, as well as providing parents with the resources necessary to help their college-bound teens navigate the college maze.

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