How to Fill Out: The Common App vs. the Coalition App

Eva Mckinzie
Published on
May 17, 2021

Applying to college is a stressful endeavor in itself, and it can become even more overwhelming when you see that there are multiple application websites- the Common App and the Coalition. However, this Simple Studies article will hopefully help you differentiate between the two websites and will guide you towards choosing what’s right for you!

What is the Common App?

The Common App is the most widely used method of applying to college. It covers over 750 colleges and universities in the United States and internationally. If you want to know more, check out their website.

What is the Coalition App?

The Coalition App is another website that allows students to apply to colleges, but it is much newer as it was launched in 2016. The Coalition does not cover nearly as many schools as the Common App- only 132. However, many of the nation’s top universities, such as the 8 Ivy Leagues, Stanford, Duke, and the University of Chicago, accept the Coalition App. If you want to know more, check out their website.

When do the websites open for each year?

Each year, the Common Application opens up on August 1st.

The Coalition Application doesn’t have a set date for you to be able to start applying to schools. Each university sets their own date for when they allow prospective students to begin applying. For example, the University of Washington opens their Coalition Application September 1st with the deadline being November 15th. The University of Florida, in comparison, opens their applications in August and has a deadline of November 1st. If you are using the Coalition to apply to colleges, be sure to check when the application opens and when the deadline is for any school you’re interested in.

What do you have to fill out?

Common App:

  1. A copy of your high school transcript is needed.
  2. You will be asked to provide a list of activities, family responsibilities, work, and anything else you may have done outside of the classroom.
  3. Test scores (ACT or SAT) are usually required. HOWEVER, this year (2020) is different due to the pandemic, and many schools have decided to go test-optional (not requiring test scores). It’s a good idea to check out whether or not the schools you are interested in have gone test optional. Usually any COVID updates about a school can be found on its website!
  4. Parent/guardian information (used for demographic purposes and includes things like parents’ occupations, employment status, and education level).
  5. Academic honors/achievements (any awards or honor societies can be included here!).
  6. You will need to write your Personal Essay, also known as the Common App essay. You have 7 prompts to choose from (which can be found on the website) and your limit is 650 words.

The Coalition:

  1. Complete your profile (similar to what the Common App asks for)
  2. Request official documents such as transcripts, recommendation letters, and test score reports.
  3. Write the required Coalition essay; there are 5 prompts to choose from.
  4. Complete the college-specific questions that can be found on the portal.  

How much does it cost to apply using the Common App and the Coalition?

The cost of applying to schools depends on the school itself. Each school sets their own applicant fee. Some schools have an application fee of $0, such as Colby College and Reed College. Other schools commonly charge between $40 and $90. For example, Vanderbilt University charges $50, Duke University charges $85, and Stanford University charges $90.

There is no cost associated just for utilizing the Common App or the Coalition; rather, each institution sets their own requirements in terms of how much it costs to apply.

Major Difference: The Activity Section

The activity section is undoubtedly one of the most important aspects of your college application. While phenomenal test scores and amazing grades are great, the activity section can truly show your passions and set you apart from the thousands of other academically qualified applicants. The Common App and Coalition both have activity sections, but there are a couple of differences within them.

  1. The Common App:
  • Has room for 10 activities
  • Asks you to list them in order of importance to you
  1. The Coalition:
  • Has room for 8 activities
  • Asks you to provide your top 2, and then fill in the remaining ones (if you want).

Major Difference: the Essay section of the application

You probably have heard about the importance of the essay in the college admissions process. Similarly to the activities section, your personal essay can really make you shine and can set you apart if you write a captivating, meaningful story/memoir. The Common App and the Coalition both have this requirement, but again, there are some differences.

  1. The Common App:
  1. The Coalition:

Other means of applying to college: Questbridge

The Common App and the Coalition App are 2 very widely known platforms for applying to college. However, there are more. You may have heard of Questbridge (or maybe you haven’t).

Questbridge is a non-profit organization that aims to connect the country’s most exceptional students from low-income or minority backgrounds with the best universities and colleges in America. Applicants apply for the National College Match, and if they match to a Questbridge college partner, they are awarded the Questbridge scholarship- a full ride to the school for all 4 years.

Who should apply?

Questbridge applicants should be doing very well in school; this includes taking rigorous courses and getting mostly A’s in them, performing well on standardized tests, and preferably being towards the top of their class. Financially, Questbridge scholars typically come from families that have a total annual income of under $65,000.

The timeline:

  • Late summer (summer before senior year)- Questbridge’s National College Match application opens.
  • September 29th- National College Match application is due
  • October 15th- Match Rankings form is due (as an applicant, you will rank up to 12 colleges from the list of Questbridge’s college partners)
  • October 21st- List of finalists is released
  • November 1st- must be submitted to the colleges ranked by the students
  • December 1st- Match Day

Some schools don’t use the Common App, Coalition, or Questbridge…

Some schools in the country have their own means of application that can be found on their websites. Some examples of these schools are:

So get out there and figure out a game plan!

Now that you have some useful information and tips regarding different ways to apply for college, figure out which route is the best for you! Regardless of what you choose, be sure to take a deep breath and remind yourself that even applying is a big step.

Read the next article in our college application guide: How to Build a Balanced College List

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