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Which College Application Is Right for You?

The Common Application is the most widely used college application.

When students envision themselves filling out college applications, they typically picture the components they have heard others discussing: “the big essay,” an activities list, or what to list as a major. However, students should know that there are often multiple application options availableThe Common Application, The Coalition Application, and college-specific applications, and it is beneficial to preview the options and consider which will help you most effectively present yourself.

The Common Application is the oldest and most frequently used online application accepted by over 700 colleges and universities. The Coalition Application, introduced in 2016, has 120 member schools that are required to meet certain levels of financial aid support and four-year graduation benchmarks. Both have a common section that asks for information that will go to all schools. Also in both applications, many colleges have specific sections with additional questions or essay prompts. Both applications allow students to invite advisors such as a guidance counselor or consultant to collaborate with applicants online.

A distinguishing feature of the Coalition Application user experience is the “Locker” of online storage space that allows students to store writing samples, digital projects, and information about extracurricular experiences online for later reference. Although colleges do not have access to the locker, students can opt to upload videos and other items from the locker to be included with their application. However, most students opt for using Google drive instead of the locker.

Georgetown is one of a handful of schools that only offers their own applications and does not accept either the Common or Coalition Applications.

Some schools such as Georgetown, the University of California system, and MIT only offer their own applications and do not accept either the Common or Coalition Applications.

How should students determine which application(s) to use?

  1. Assess your college list and determine which schools accept which applications.
  2. Try to find ways to be efficient. If some colleges accept only the Coalition Application, consider whether it can be used for all colleges. If all your colleges accept the Common Application, it may be your best option because it is easier to use. If some schools on your list accept only their own application, look for essay topics that could be modified and used in other applications.
  3. Search for opportunities to highlight your strengths. Review the supplemental essays required by each school in each of the possible applications. For example, last year, Yale required two supplemental essays on the Common Application, and on its Coalition Application Yale offered the option to write one essay and upload an audio file, video, image, or document you have created that is meaningful to you and relates to your essay.

The chart below summarizes the main differences between the Common and Coalition Applications. Most applicants use the Common Application because of its wide acceptance, and add other applications as required or after determining that they would be beneficial in some way. Students can explore, create accounts, and begin filling in information anytime on both the Common and Coalition applications. Please confer with your consultant to determine what would be best in your case.

Common ApplicationCoalition Application
700+ member schools. About 120 member schools. Members are required to meet financial aid standards, and tend to be more selective and wealthy. Most are on Common App too, except for Universities of Florida, Maryland and Washington.
Allows 20 schools on applicant’s list.No limit to number of schools allowed.
Main Essay must be less than 650 words. Upload as word or pdf document. Formatting limited to bold, italics, and underline.Main Essay recommended to be >300 words and < 550 words. Many schools allow file upload options including photos, colors, fonts and other formatting.
7 essay prompts, including topic of your choice.5 essay prompts, including topic of your choice.
No embedded storage, so many students use Google drive to save potential application supporting materials. Main essay can be uploaded from Google drive.Allows storage of multimedia uploads in the Locker. Documents, video, audio, images, presentations and other work can be saved as early as freshman year.
User experience has been refined over many years and the application is modular, with ability to switch back and forth among sections.Applicant must complete application sequentially, so later sections are not visible until prior ones are complete – makes it difficult to look ahead at what’s required.
Extensive online documentation, email and chat support are available and answered promptly.Support requests submitted via email are generally answered within a day.
Courses and grades required to be listed only for senior year by most schools, GW and USC required all years in most recent application cycle.Requests listing of courses and grades from all high school years.
10 activities allowed, 50 character limit for activity/role and 150 limit for description.8 activities allowed, 64 character limit to define activity, 255 for description. Requests more information about whether leadership was shared, and high/low end of time estimates.
Generate a pdf preview of entire application immediately onscreen. Student can save pdf file outside Common Application.Preview is generated and placed in Locker, where student can store and review it.

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