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How to Answer the Coalition Essay Prompts

By Zach Skillings

Zach Skillings is the Scholarships360 Newsletter Editor. He specializes in college admissions and strives to answer important questions about higher education. When he’s not contributing to Scholarships360, Zach writes about travel, music, film, and culture. His work has been published in Our State Magazine, Ladygunn Magazine, The Nocturnal Times, and The Lexington Dispatch. Zach graduated from Elon University with a degree in Cinema and Television Arts.

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Posted: March 1st, 2022
How to Answer the Coalition Essay Prompts

The Coalition is an online application portal that allows students to apply to multiple colleges at once. Like the Common App, the Coalition has its own set of unique essay prompts. Most schools that use the Coalition require students to respond to at least one of these prompts. In this guide, we’ll break down each of the Coalition essay prompts and offer some advice on how to respond. Let’s get started!

Related: How to answer the Common App essay prompts

Before you begin writing…

It’s important to figure out how many essays you actually need to write. Some Coalition schools only require students to submit one essay, while others require multiple. Check the website of each school on your list to determine their individual essay requirements. From there, you can strategize how to complete your essay(s). You should also keep in mind that the Coalition recommends students aim for 500 to 650 words for each essay. However, some schools have word count limits that are higher or lower. That’s why it’s so important to check each school’s individual requirements before you begin writing. 

Don’t miss: How to write an essay about yourself

Prompt #1

“Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.”

This prompt is pretty open-ended, which is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, the prompt gives you the freedom to write about nearly anything. On the other hand, some students may find it difficult to find a focus within such a broad prompt. If you’re trying to narrow down what you could write about, think about some of the most important moments in your life and their impact. What experiences have influenced your identity? It could be a time when you faced and overcame a challenge, a time when you discovered a new passion or helped someone in need, or even a time when you made a mistake and learned from the result. 

Whatever you decide to write about, you should figure out how you can shape your topic into a compelling story. When it comes to this type of essay (and most essays, for that matter), it’s better to show instead of tell. Rather than simply telling your reader how you’re good at adapting to new environments, share the story of how you moved to a new state in the middle of the school year. The more details, the better. Your essay will be much more compelling if you set the scene and tell a story instead of simply listing your experiences and accomplishments.

Questions to consider:

  • What experiences have impacted your outlook on life? 
  • What are some of the major turning points in your life, and what have you learned from them? 
  • If your life was a movie, what would be the most compelling scene? 

Also see: Tips for rocking your college applications

Prompt #2

“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.”

This is a great prompt for students who have a passion for helping others. If you have a history of volunteer work or community involvement, now’s your chance to talk about it. Maybe you tutor underserved middle school students, or maybe you’re actively involved in fighting community hunger. You could even write about something more nontraditional like taking care of a sick family member or mentoring younger siblings. Whatever the case may be, it’s important to write about the motive behind your actions. Colleges want to know that you’re genuinely passionate about what you’re doing. 

And if you don’t have a meaningful experience to discuss, it’s best to avoid this prompt altogether. Stay away from writing about superficial volunteer experiences that were only done to meet a requirement or add a line to your resume. If you don’t have a true passion for whatever you’re writing about, it’s likely that admissions officers will be able to tell. As in all cases, it’s best to write with sincerity and authenticity. 

Questions to consider:

  • Have there been times in your life when you have helped others without thinking about yourself? 
  • How does helping others make you feel? 
  • What have you learned about yourself while helping others? 

Don’t miss: How many schools should you apply to?

Prompt #3

“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?”

During college, you’ll be exposed to a lot of new perspectives. You may even come across certain ideas that force you to reconsider your own beliefs. College is a time of intellectual discovery, and admissions officers want to enroll students who are ready for that sort of experience. This essay is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate that you’re open to new ideas and ways of thinking. 

If you’re interested in this prompt, think about times in your life when you’ve had to reconsider some of your most strongly-held beliefs. Describe the experience and how it changed your perspective. It’s not necessary for you to have flipped completely from one side of an issue to another, but you should demonstrate that you gained some new insight. This essay works best when students can show that they are open-minded. Remember to steer the conversation in a positive direction and avoid coming across as arrogant or preachy. Your goal should be to strike a tone that is confident, yet humble. 

Questions to consider:

  • Do you have any beliefs that are essential to who you are as a person?
  • At what times in your life have you had to defend your point of view?
  • How do you react to opinions that you don’t agree with?

Also see: What is the Coalition Application?

Prompt #4

“What is the hardest part of being a student now? What’s the best part? What advice would you give a younger sibling or friend (assuming they would listen to you)?”

This prompt is unique because it combines three questions into one. While it may seem challenging to address three prompts at once, it gives you an opportunity to craft an interesting and nuanced response. If you’re having trouble getting started, focus on the word “now” in the first question. The prompt is asking you to consider the challenges and rewards of being a student in this particular time period. Ask yourself if there is anything unique about being a student right now. For instance, what is it like being a student in the digital era? Or what is it like being a student during the pandemic? Whatever you decide to write about, try to be specific and focus on both the positive and negative aspects of your experience. 

Once you’ve addressed this part of the prompt, turn your attention to the third question – “What advice would you give a younger sibling or friend?” This doesn’t have to be a major part of your essay, but try to address it at least briefly. Think about what you’ve learned during your experience as a student. How have you maximized your opportunities? What mistakes have you made? After considering these questions, try to form a tangible takeaway that could be helpful for younger students. This is a nice way to wrap up your thoughts and put a bow on your essay. 

Questions to consider:

  • What do you like about being a student right now? What don’t you like? 
  • How does your experience as a student connect to the bigger picture regarding what’s going on in the world today? 
  • What advantages and disadvantages do students have today? 

Prompt #5

“Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.”

This prompt gives students the freedom to write about anything they want. This may be daunting for some students, but exciting for others. If you’re interested in this prompt, there are a few things you should keep in mind. First of all, don’t be afraid to get creative. This prompt is extremely open-ended, and you should lean into that. If you have a unique idea that doesn’t fit the mold of the other prompts, go for it! Just make sure that your essay reveals something positive about yourself. 

Your essay should also have a clear focus. Without any guiding prompt, you may find that your essay trails off in five different directions and never really makes a clear point. Don’t let that happen — find a focus and stick with it. And finally, remember that it’s okay to reuse an essay that you wrote for another application such as the Common App. 

Questions to consider:

  • What should colleges know about you that they wouldn’t learn from the rest of your application? 
  • Do you have any exceptional experiences that don’t quite work for the other prompts?
  • What is the most important thing that colleges should know about you? 

Main takeaways 

  • Like the Common App, the Coalition has its own set of unique essay prompts
  • The Coalition requires students to respond to at least one of the prompts
  • No matter which essay prompt(s) you choose, your writing should have a clear focus
  • Rather than simply listing your experiences and accomplishments, tell a story
  • Be authentic and choose topics that you have a true passion about
  • Be creative, but make sure that your essay reveals something about you

Don’t miss: Scholarships360’s free scholarship search tool

Additional resources for students applying to college

After seemingly endless preparation, you’re finally at the stage where you are working on applications! It’s an exciting time in the process, and a very important one too. Luckily, we’ve got your back every step of the way. For starters, check out our insider’s guide to what happens inside college admissions offices, written by our co-founder and former admissions officer. Next, check out our guide to safety, reach, and match schools to ensure that you have your bases covered.

If you’re looking at the Coalition Application early enough, you may still even have time to improve your SAT score if you’re not currently satisfied. Next, check out our guide to securing the best letters of recommendation, to ensure the strongest application possible. Finally, for once you start hearing back, check out our guide on how to read financial aid award letters and how to choose a college. Happy hunting!

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