Chicago campus has joined the Common Application Consortium

CHICAGO — Overall admissions numbers and the quality of student applicants both improved this year at the University of Illinois at Chicago, which recently joined the Common Application Consortium.

But UI officials say it's too soon to gauge the full impact of the school's decision to use the Common App, which has not been adopted by the Urbana-Champaign or Springfield campuses.

Applications at the UI Chicago were up 2 percent overall this year, to 15,295, with in-state applications dropping by several hundred students but out-of-state and international applications higher, according to a recent report to UI trustees.

The number of students admitted rose 13 percent, from 9,227 to 10,413, including a 60 percent jump in those from other states. But the number of students who accepted the offer of admissions remained stable, said Christophe Pierre, UI vice president for academic affairs.

The campus also saw increases in the number of African-American and Native American applicants, said Kevin Browne, vice provost for academic and enrollment services at UI Chicago.

Browne said he's not sure if the Common App accounts for that, noting the campus has also stepped up recruiting efforts. But until this year the campus was using an outdated online application, and 25 percent of its applications still came in on paper, so adopting the Common App made sense, he said.

"The Common App simply changes our front door," he said. "It's a great tool for us. It met our needs. It won't meet everybody's needs. For us, the technology, and the ability to be fairly quick to bring that tool online, made perfect sense."

The Common App allows students to apply to many colleges through one application and is seen as a way to expand a school's reach nationwide. Opened to public universities in 2000, it now includes 517 schools and processes 3 million applications a year.

Last spring, the UI decided against using the Common App for the Urbana and Springfield campuses for now, following the recommendation of a university review committee. Pierre said the UI will continue to weigh the matter, given planned improvements in the Common App and its growing use across the country.

The UI Chicago was the first public university in Illinois to join the Common App and the 16th Illinois school overall, following DePaul, Northwestern and the University of Chicago, among others, Browne said.

He said the needs of the Chicago campus are different from Urbana's, which has built its own online application uniquely suited to its data needs.

"For us to use the most current technology would have involved either a major outlay of funds to either write or build a new applications system, or taking advantage of what the Common App has already done," he said.

The campus had to pay a few hundred dollars to join, as well as a $4.50 fee per application to the campus, or about $70,000 annually for its nearly 16,000 applicants, he said.

The Common App is working on the fourth iteration of its online application, and the Urbana campus and other schools that have built their own systems are waiting to see how it works, he said.

Browne said the Common App has several advantages. Students are more likely to complete it, because it affects their admissions chances at several schools, he said.

The Chicago campus also hopes it will help boost its tiny nonresident enrollment, both domestic and international. Currently, the majority of the UI Chicago's students are from Cook County, and 25 percent are from Chicago Public Schools, he said. The number of nonresident applicants rose from 795 in 2012 to 1,266 this fall, and the campus admitted 616, up from 372 last year.

One curious finding: Quite a few high schools sent fewer applicants to the UI Chicago under the Common App, but they generated the same number of admissions, or more, Browne said. He speculates the Common App discouraged students who knew they wouldn't be competitive from applying, because it's a more comprehensive application than the old UI version.

The Common App is especially convenient for students who want to stay in Chicago and are applying to other Common App schools, such as DePaul or Northwestern, Browne said.

Resistance from high school counselors is fading as more schools adopt the Common App, he said.

It also gives the campus more information about students, via counselors' recommendations, which he called "hugely helpful."

"It's gotten us a much better tool than we would have gotten otherwise, for a very efficient cost," he said.

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