“The Common Application is common only among those participating institutions that use it,” says J. Michael Thompson, chief executive of Xap.
Each of the new systems promises time savings for harried students by allowing them to fill in personal and academic information just once. Typically, the software imports the data for the other colleges on a student’s list (students still have to complete institution-specific questions or supplements).
That automation is important because a third of fall 2009 freshmen applied to six or more colleges, and fewer and fewer apply using paper forms. Eighty percent applied online in 2009, up from 58 percent only three years earlier, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling.
By expanding ways to apply, colleges can pull in applicants from outside established channels — to fill seats, help them shape a more diverse class and, of course, to look more selective by rejecting a larger number of students. “It’s never a good idea to be completely dependent on one supplier,” explains Christoph Guttentag, dean of admissions at Duke, which uses the Common Application, the Universal College Application and Xap.
The new, for-profit application providers recognize the potential money in encouraging students to apply to multiple schools. Colleges and universities pay, on average, about $5 for each completed application.
Students are on their own in deciding which application to use, as long as an institution accepts it (check its admissions page, or the application’s Web site).
How to choose? An alternative application might prove more efficient depending on objectives — Xap, for example, for students staying in-state, the Common Application for selective privates. The content of the forms is much the same, and all claim this: Their application gets equal consideration from admissions officers.