With an Eye to Easing Admissions Process, U.Va. Signs on to Common Application

July 23, 2008 — In its latest effort to ease access to applicants from all backgrounds, the University of Virginia is among the latest schools to sign on to the Common Application, a single document that allows students to apply for admission at any of 346 public and private universities across the United States.

U.Va.'s admission site began linking to the online "Common App" when this year's edition went live July 1. Those seeking admission to U.Va. — both first-year and transfer applicants — will also be required to complete a U.Va.-specific supplemental application.

The Common Application, first piloted in 1975, was initially an effort of a group of private institutions. U.Va. sought to join in early on, but was rebuffed, John A. Blackburn, dean of admission, said.

Public institutions were finally invited to participate in 2001. Today, according to the Common Application Web site, "Our membership of more than 300 institutions now represents the full range of higher education institutions in the U.S.: public and private, large and small, highly selective and modestly selective, and East Coast, West Coast and every region in between."

U.Va. is one of 10 Virginia colleges and universities – and one of only three public institutions – accessible through the Common App.

Blackburn hopes the ease of the process will make U.Va. more attractive, particularly to first-generation college applicants to whom the college application process may seem overwhelming.

Previously, applying to U.Va. meant spending hours completing a unique application — even though many of the required elements were similar or identical to those required by other schools.

"The whole point of it is to make U.Va. more accessible," Blackburn said. "It's trying to make the process less intimidating, less formidable."

The Common Application will not force the University to alter its admissions requirements, Blackburn said. The supplemental form will include U.Va-specific essay questions and the required pledge to uphold the honor system. (One essay has been eliminated from the U.Va.-specific form because a similar one is required by the Common Application.)

"We're not losing the elements that are uniquely ours," Blackburn said.

The student online application fee of $60 will not change, Blackburn said.
It's too early to tell how the switch will affect the number of University applicants, said Blackburn, who noted that some schools see an increase, while others seem to experience little or no change. By mid-July, about 1,500 students who had already begun the application process listed U.Va. as one of their target schools. (The deadline for first-year applications is Jan. 2;transfer applications are due March 1.)

Going to the Common Application lines up alongside several other initiatives to make the University more attractive to students from all backgrounds, including the "AccessUVA" financial-aid program, guaranteed-admission agreements with state community colleges and various outreach efforts to schools.

The switch to the Common Application is just one of three major changes to the admissions process this year, Associate Dean of Admission Gregory Roberts said. For the first time, all applications will be read online and not printed out. The office is also changing its applicant-tracking software.

"We decided to rip the Band-Aid off all at once, rather than to do it incrementally," quipped Roberts, who added that he knows of no other school that has taken all three actions in one year.