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Coalition vs. Common App: What is the difference?

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: July 16th, 2021
Coalition vs. Common App: What is the difference?

Coalition vs Common app? When it comes to the college application process, there’s a few different ways you can go about it. You can apply through a school’s individual application, or you can make use of platforms like the Common App and Coalition. Both of these platforms streamline the college application process by allowing students to apply to multiple schools at once. While some colleges accept neither application, you’ll find that most well-known schools are included in either the Common App or Coalition. The applications have similar structure and require more or less the same information from students. So what exactly is the difference between the two?

Coalition vs. Common App: What’s the difference?

To start with, the Common App has been around much longer than the Coalition. The Common App launched in 1975 and is currently accepted by over 900 colleges and universities throughout the U.S. Meanwhile, the Coalition was created in 2015 and is currently accepted by approximately 150 schools. Because the Common App has been used for decades, it has a clear advantage in terms of name recognition. 

Although the Common App is the application of choice for many high school students, the Coalition is worth considering as well. The Coalition specifically caters to students seeking an affordable college education. All colleges and universities that use the Coalition have proven that they provide significant financial support to low-income and underrepresented students. Along with its emphasis on affordability, the Coalition has a couple other unique traits that set it apart from the Common App. Let’s break down the benefits of each application. 

Benefits of the Common App

Widely Accepted

The Common App is by far the most popular college application system in the U.S. Due to its status as a household name, the Common App presents certain upsides that the Coalition simply can’t match right now. Hundreds of colleges and universities accept the Common App, meaning there’s a much greater chance that you can apply to a school you’d like to attend. Keep in mind that you can apply to up to 20 colleges through the Common App.

Additionally, many high school counselors and teachers are familiar with the Common App’s interface because it’s been around for so long. As such, it’s usually easier for teachers to submit letters of recommendation through the Common App. Not to mention, your teachers and counselors can serve as helpful resources for navigating the application if needed. 

Variety of Essay Prompts 

Another one of the Common App’s strengths is its variety of essay prompts. The application currently offers seven prompts for students to choose from, while the Coalition offers five prompts. If you decide to use the Common App, you may have an easier time finding an essay prompt that suits you. Plus, Common App essay prompts are nearly identical from year to year. This means that you can plan your essay well in advance if you’re looking to get a head start on the application process. 

Related: How to fill out the Common App activities section

Benefits of the Coalition 

Emphasis on Affordability 

The Coalition was created to increase college access and affordability for all students, particularly those from underrepresented groups. As such, the Coalition has specific eligibility criteria for its member schools. All colleges who use the Coalition must provide “substantial support to lower-income, under-resourced and/or first-generation students”. This means that you can expect all Coalition member schools to offer affordable tuition rates and/or substantial financial aid packages. 

Exclusive Schools 

There’s no debating that the Common App has the clear advantage when it comes to the number of partnering schools. However, there’s actually a few well-known schools that accept the Coalition but not the Common App. These include the following:

  • Rutgers
  • UT Austin 
  • University of Washington 

If any of these schools are on your list, the Coalition is certainly worth considering. You should also keep in mind that while the Common App lets you apply to a maximum of 20 schools, there’s no limit to the number of schools you can apply to through the Coalition. 

Locker Tool 

The locker tool is a unique feature of the Coalition that allows students to keep track of important application materials throughout their high school career. Beginning in the 9th grade, students can store essays, recommendations, photos, and videos in their online cloud-based locker. If used effectively, the locker can be helpful in keeping all of your valuable application materials in one place. 

Which application should I use? Coalition or Common app?

When deciding between the two applications, your first move should be to find out which of your desired schools you can apply to through each platform. Because the Common App covers so many colleges, you’re more likely to have access to the schools on your list with this application. And except for the colleges that we mentioned above, most schools that accept the Coalition also accept the Common App. 

However, the Coalition may suit you better if your top priority is attending an affordable college and graduating with little to no debt. There are certainly affordable colleges included in the Common App, but you can count on all Coalition colleges to emphasize affordability. When using the Coalition, you’ll have peace of mind knowing that all the colleges you apply to will make efforts to meet your financial need if accepted. And if you appreciate the function of the locker tool, then the Coalition may be the way to go.

Coalition vs Common app? If you still can’t decide, take a look at each application’s essay prompts and see which ones you prefer. Remember that colleges do not favor one application over the other, so you won’t gain an advantage in the admissions process with either one. Ultimately, whichever application best suits your needs is the one that you should use. 

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