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The Coalition Application versus the Common Application–Which One to Use? It Starts with a Look at the Essay Prompts

In 2019-2020 College Application Essays, Coalition Application, common application on June 21, 2019 at 3:15 pm

Who should read this: anybody applying to college in 2019-2020. Post Subjects: The Common Application versus the Coalition Application, A Comparison of Common Application and Coalition Application Essays and for financially challenged families, The Questbridge Application.

The Coalition and the Common Application are the most important college application portals. The Common Application is the Big Kahuna, with over one million students submitting over five million applications, and this year, it handles applications for more than 800 colleges. The only state that has no colleges accepting the Common Application is North Dakota (Why: Most of North Dakota’s colleges are public and use the state’s application portal. If this seems backward, both the University of California and the Cal State Universities use their own portals as well.)

In contrast, the Coalition Application lists 107 colleges for 2019-2020; however, this is a pretty elite list, which includes Stanford, the majority of Ivy League colleges, Cal Tech, Georgia Tech, Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Northeastern . . .

In previous years all of the Ivy League schools were listed as using the Coalition Application, but this year Cornell and Brown are not listed. Could be an error, of course. To which I add, the Coalition Application specifically identifies itself as being designed for students with fewer resources. Here is the full list for you to consult: Coalition Application Colleges

The obvious advantage of the Common Application lies in the number of colleges that use it, roughly 8 times the number of the Coalition Application, but it is also worth comparing the essay questions as you decide which to use, or perhaps if you want to selectively use both portals–so first here are The Coalition Application Essay Prompts for 2019-2020:

  • Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
  • Describe a time when you made a meaningful contribution to others in which the greater good was your focus. Discuss the challenges and rewards of making your contribution.
  • Has there been a time when you’ve had a long-cherished or accepted belief challenged? How did you respond? How did the challenge affect your beliefs?
  • What is the hardest part of being a teenager now? What’s the best part? What advice would you give a younger sibling or friend (assuming they would listen to you)?
  • Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.

My initial observation is that the Coalition prompts are fewer in number (five, versus seven for the Common App) but also seem to define broader topics. I would agree that in these prompts you can see how the Coalition does, in fact, aim at “lower resourced” students in that way–several of the Common Application Prompts seem slightly better for a well-resourced suburban youth, but there is also a possible overlap in the sense that substance in one can be topic in another. For example, these prompts also do overlap with the Common Application–

Common App Prompt 1 asks about “background, identity or interest or talent” that is “so meaningful” that you need to write about it; there is no direct corollary with the Coalition prompts, but on the other hand the Coalition Application’s first prompt, “a story from your life . . . [that] demonstrates your character” could overlap if it involves an interest, talent or your background and shows something important about you through describing or narrating that. But you can see an interesting difference–the second Coalition App prompt , on making a “meaningful contribution to others,” has no direct corollary in the Common Application (Hmm, is the Common App “All about You?”), unless you could have contributed to others by questioning or challenging “a belief or idea” (Common App Prompt 3), which if you are working with a group like Black Lives Matter, would clearly apply. It’s really about what your examples and content are; keep in mind that you are not “answering a question” in the way you might if an English teacher asks you to write an essay on the theme of a novel or your history teacher asks you to explain the causes of a war. College essay prompts are really aimed at defining areas you write about, and you choose the content that fits the area of the prompt.

Here is a link to the Common Application Prompts if you would like to quickly compare them with the Coalition App: Common Application Essays for 2019-2020.

Another factor to consider is word count. The Common App allows up to 650 words; the Coalition App “strongly advises” no more than 550 words. I find that 100 words is huge if an essay of 650 words is well-written.

My overall take is to tilt toward the Common Application, due to its longer college list and more generous word count. Like the Coalition Application, it does allow you to submit an essay on a topic of your choice. But if you like prompts on the Coalition Application, and you want to emphasize that you are not well-resourced,* you can use both–setting up an account on both is free–and then you could always write a Coalition App essay, and if it is excellent, submit it for the open essay prompt on the Common App. Problem solved. With a bit of extra work to set up two accounts.

*One more thing–if you are not well resourced and are concerned about paying for school, the elite, private schools, like Harvard, do supply excellent financial aid, and you should also look at things like Questbridge to see if you qualify–see here for more: Who Qualifies for Questbridge. If you qualify, you should absolutely pursue a Questbridge application.

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