If you're submitting a college application through the Coalition Application, you likely already know that you'll have to write a personal essay. The purpose of the Coalition Application essay is for you to showcase a side of yourself that colleges don't get to see through your transcripts and test scores alone. There are five Coalition essay prompts to choose from. So which one should you pick?
In this article, we go over what the Coalition Application essay is and take a look at all five Coalition essay prompts. For each prompt, we give you potential topics you can write about and key tips for answering it effectively.
Keep reading to learn which Coalition essay prompt might be the best fit for you!
What Is the Coalition Application Essay?
The Coalition App is a centralized college application system (meaning you can use it to apply to multiple colleges at once) and a competitor of the Common App. (For a more in-depth look at how the Coalition App differs from the Common App, check out our expert guide to the Coalition vs Common App.)
Like the Common App, the Coalition App has a section for which applicants must write and submit a personal essay. Most schools that accept the Coalition App require applicants to submit an essay. Some schools might also require applicants to submit other writing samples in the form of short answers or a "why this college" essay. Look at your schools' application requirements pages to learn more about what kinds of materials they require for admission.
With the Coalition App (and all other centralized application systems), you get to write one single essay and use it for all the schools you’re applying to.
But what’s the point of the Coalition essay—of any college essay, really?
For one, the essay gives colleges a better sense of what’s important to you by drawing a more well-rounded picture of who you are. For example, maybe you’re passionate about volunteering at homeless shelters. Although you could just list your volunteer experience in the extracurriculars section of your application, with the essay, you can add far more color to this aspect of yourself by explaining why you volunteer, what made you interested in assisting those who are less fortunate, and how this experience has shaped you as a person.
Secondly, the personal essay reveals things about yourself that can’t be found on other parts of your application. In other words, the essay lets you be more than just a series of letter grades and test scores. Think about it: would you rather be remembered as the applicant who simply got good grades—or the one who worked with a technology startup to create a new app, causing her to develop an interest in business and entrepreneurship? Ultimately, in order to stand apart from other applicants, you need to showcase what makes you unique.
Finally, the Coalition essay is important because it showcases your writing ability. If your essay is riddled with typos, grammatical errors, and other mistakes, schools might question whether you’re really ready to study at the undergraduate level.
Now that we’ve covered what the Coalition Application essay is and why it’s such a critical part of your college application, let’s take a look at the Coalition Application essay prompts.
What Are the Coalition Essay Prompts?
The Coalition App currently offers five prompts to choose from. You can choose whichever prompt you want for your essay. (Later, we’ll go over how to determine which prompt is best for you.)
Here are the prompts:
- 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.
While there’s no official word limit for the Coalition Application essay, you should aim to write about 500-550 words. This is a pretty standard college essay length.
Unfortunately, you won't get to use one of these bad boys to write your essay.
How to Answer Each of the 5 Coalition Essay Prompts
The Coalition essay is a hugely important part of your application. In this section, we go over each of the five Coalition Application essay prompts, and give you tips to help you come up with a great topic and produce an overall fantastic essay.
Coalition Essay Prompt 1
Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
This essay prompt is pretty broad; it allows you to focus on any significant experience in your life. To answer it effectively, you’ll want to relate a specific anecdote or event that had a strong impact on you as a person and how you define yourself today.
Tips for Answering This Prompt
- Pick a truly significant experience. It doesn't have to be super rare, but it should hold deep meaning for you. Ask yourself: what defines you? What is important to you? Can you connect the development of a personality trait or goal you have to a specific event or moment in your life?
- Focus on one experience. Don’t try to cram in as many stories as possible—concentrate on the one incident that's most important and use this essay as a chance to really delve into the specifics of it. How did it make you feel at the time? Why did it have such an impact on you?
- If writing about a negative experience, try to put a positive spin on it. You don’t need to stick with a happy-go-lucky story—maybe you lost a friend because of a heated argument, or forgot to pick up your little brother from school one day. Regardless of the incident, keep the focus on how this situation ultimately taught you something important about life, such as the value of responsibility or the meaning of maturity.
- A time you helped someone in need, such as a friend, a classmate, or a sibling, and how your assistance revealed to you the value of cooperation or compassion. For example, did you tutor a peer in math? Help your sibling recover from a bullying incident?
- A time you made a mistake or acted against your true character and what this taught you about morality and being true to yourself. Perhaps you lied about a grade you got to your parents or said something out of anger to a friend and later regretted it.
- An incident that emphasizes a particular skill or ability you have. For example, you could write about the time you organized a winter holiday food drive at your high school and how it highlights your leadership skills and passion for social work.
- A time you faced a challenge and how you ultimately overcame it. Maybe you struggled severely with geometry and were about to fail your math class, but because of a great friend who encouraged you to keep trying, you eventually raised your grade from a D- to a B.
Pitfalls to Avoid
- Pretending something is more important or unique than it actually is. Don’t tell a story the admissions committee has likely heard hundreds of times. Choose an event that speaks to your life and has had a large impact on how you see yourself. Basically, don't write about what you think the admissions committee wants to read. For example, instead of discussing how you've been in Honor Society since 9th grade, it'll be a lot more interesting if you wrote about somebody you met through Honor Society or why you decided to drop out of it.
- Focusing too much on the negative. While it’s OK to write about a time when you made a mistake, did something wrong, or faced a challenge, try to avoid writing only about the bad parts. Your story should overall be optimistic and reveal something positive about yourself.
- Telling instead of showing. Don’t just describe what happened—relate the experience as if the reader were there with you. Using some literary techniques adds color to your writing.
Coalition Essay 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 second essay prompt is more specific than the one above and asks you to discuss a time in your life when you helped out with a greater cause (i.e., more than just yourself, your family, or your friends).
This prompt is also asking you to address any challenges or struggles you faced while making this positive contribution, and what these taught you about yourself and what you value in life.
Tips for Answering This Prompt
- Focus on something meaningful to you. If you aren't sincere, the admissions committee will be able to detect this, so write about something that affected you on a deep level.
- Avoid clichés and overly general experiences. Lots of students volunteer at shelters and tutor other students, so you’ll need to ensure that whatever you write about is specific and unique to you. Don’t just write that you were moved by the time you volunteered on a farm over the summer—explain who or what moved you and why you felt this way.
- A specific incident from a volunteering experience you’ve had. For example, say you used to tutor underprivileged middle school students. You could talk about the time you struggled to help a student read a book due to his dyslexia, and what this taught you about people, life, and privilege.
- A specific person or group of people you helped in some way. If you volunteered with an outreach program or at a hospital, for instance, you could talk about a particular person you helped, what was difficult about helping them, and how the experience ultimately influenced your goals or interests.
Pitfalls to Avoid
- Not being humble or honest about your experience. Admissions committees don’t want to read about how awesome you are for helping out at a retirement center—many students do similar things, and volunteering doesn’t automatically make you the "perfect" applicant. Don’t brag about your experience, or you might come across rude and self-centered.
- Sounding like a "voluntourist." If you volunteered with an organization abroad, be careful not to sound as though you were just there for vacation and didn’t care about the people or area you helped. You don’t want to be viewed as the privileged student who simply traveled to an underdeveloped area and then left without a second thought. Rather, emphasize your ongoing connection to this experience, the area, and (ideally) the people there.
Coalition Essay 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?
It can be difficult to admit when you are wrong, don’t have enough evidence to back up a claim, or don't know how to respond to someone who rationally challenges a belief you have. This Coalition essay prompt is all about open-mindedness and how you respond to counterarguments.
Being able to change your opinion about something or even just acknowledge shortcomings in your beliefs indicates that you can objectively consider others’ opinions and recognize when a different stance is more logical, moral, or preferable than your own.
Tips for Answering This Prompt
- Focus on something meaningful to you. You don’t need to write about a super political or controversial topic, but it should be something that holds some sort of value for you. At the same time, avoid anything too trivial. The admissions committee won’t care all that much if you changed your mind on what shampoo you use, for example.
- While you don’t need to have completely changed your mind, you should’ve gained new insight from the challenge to your belief. Don't feel as though you have to explain how you suddenly jumped from one side of an issue to another in the course of a single conversation. Still, you should definitely discuss how this challenge to your belief made you consider other perspectives, even if not right away.
- A political topic or social issue, such as immigration laws, abortion rights, etc. You don’t need to write about something as serious or as controversial as these examples, but if you’re particularly passionate about something or underwent a major change in terms of what you support or oppose, this is a good topic to pick.
- A religious or spiritual belief. Perhaps you grew up highly Catholic but began to stray from the religion as a teenager. This could be a good time to explain how a particular challenge to your religious beliefs affected your convictions, and what this suggests about your approach to other religions in the world and people with beliefs different from yours.
Pitfalls to Avoid
- Sounding too closed minded. The purpose of this essay is to illustrate how a challenge to a belief you held affected you (ideally in a positive way!). However, if the point of your essay is that you didn’t change your mind at all or consider another perspective after hearing a valid criticism, this probably isn’t the best prompt for you to pick. Remember that the admissions committee wants to see that you’re open to new ideas and gaining new insight.
- Acting as if it’s your way or the highway. Even if you didn’t change your belief in the end, remember that not everyone reading your essay will agree with your opinion. Don’t write as though you are absolutely, 100% correct—be humble and open to what others might think. Doing this will leave a much better impression on the admissions committee!
Being a teenager today is all about brooding next to chain link fences.
Coalition Essay 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 essay prompt actually consists of three separate questions. In your essay, you're expected to elaborate on the following:
- What the hardest part of being a teenager now is
- What the best part of being a teenager now is
- What advice you would give to a younger sibling or friend regarding being a teenager
Note that the focus of this prompt is the "now"—this era, this time in which teenagers live. Ask yourself: what do you know about "now" that you could write about? How does it relate to you or your life as a teenager?
Tips for Answering This Prompt
- Focus on the concept of "now." The point of this essay is to explain what you feel teenagers (including yourself!) are dealing with. Ask yourself: what kinds of things are teens facing these days? Are there any common challenges or struggles today’s teens (and you) are facing? What about the advantages or benefits teens today have?
- Tie your essay back to you. You're not just writing about teenagers in general but about you as a teen and where you fit in today's world. Whatever you talk about, be sure it's something that you personally have experienced or witnessed, and that it plays a significant role in your life or has had a big impact on your perspective of yourself, your future, and others your age.
- Try to answer all three questions if you can—though it's perfectly fine to focus on one or two. This prompt can seem overwhelming since it’s asking so many questions at once, so make sure you’re finding some balance as you write. If you want to focus on a good point of being a teenager, for example, that’s fine—just see whether you can also comment on a bad point. When in doubt, answer the one question in which you're most invested. Don't cram in answers to all three questions if you can't or don't want to!
- Technology. Teenagers today have access to technology like never before. You could write about iPhones, texting, Snapchat, etc., and what kinds of effects (positive, negative, or both) this new technology-obsessed world is having on today’s youths and yourself. For example, do you find you can't communicate with others without texting them first or friending them on Facebook? What might this suggest about your future and that of other teens?
- Political or social issues. How do you and other teens feel about the Trump administration, immigration laws, women’s rallies, LGBTQ+ rights, etc.? Think about how you've reacted to these ideas and events, and try to consider the broader implications for teenagers today.
- Entertainment and media. How do movies, music, TV shows, and video games affect today’s teens? How have they affected you? For example, you could discuss how being able to stream TV shows allows you to more easily organize your schedule so you can get all your homework done without having to miss the newest episode of The Big Bang Theory.
Pitfalls to Avoid
- Being too general. Don’t just say technology is great and you love smartphones—how has it affected teenagers and you specifically? What kinds of advantages does new technology give teens, and why do you think this is important or relevant to your own life?
- Not connecting your analysis back to yourself. Remember that even though you're talking about teens in general, you're also supposed to be clearly tying this idea back to your life as a teen today. Don't just talk about what's affecting teens—what's affecting you? Once you have identified something in your own life, you can bring this idea back to teens more generally.
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Coalition Essay Prompt 5
Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.
This topic is by far the broadest and most open ended of the five Coalition Application essay prompts. For this prompt, you can write about virtually anything you want to, so long as it reveals something unique about yourself that’ll make the admissions committee want to admit you.
Tips for Answering This Prompt
- Be yourself. This prompt is your best chance to shine since it’s so open. If you feel as though the other Coalition Application essay prompts are restricting your personality and voice, take this as an opportunity to really showcase who you are.
- Write about something that’s important to you. No matter what kind of approach you use or topic you write about, try to focus on something that holds significance to you. Perhaps it’s a particular person, an activity, an event, an interest, or an ambition.
- It’s OK to reuse another essay you’ve written. If you already wrote a personal essay for the Common App, for example, it’s perfectly fine to use it again for the Coalition App. Just be sure to tweak any words or phrases that are specific to a school (in other words, you don't want to submit an essay that mentions how amazing Stanford is if you're applying to UT Austin!).
You can write about pretty much anything for this prompt, so the choice is yours!
Pitfalls to Avoid
- Not having a clear direction. The biggest con with a "choose your own topic" prompt is that you don't get clear instructions for how to structure your essay. Make sure to use an easy-to-follow organization that clearly expresses the main point of your essay, whether that’s how passionate you are about football or how your experience living in eight different states has influenced your professional goals.
- Restating your resume. The admissions committee already has access to your resume, so they don't need a rehash of the extracurriculars you've participated in or the part-time jobs you've held. Focus on something that hasn't been mentioned in your application or that you feel you haven't given enough attention to.
Coalition Essay Prompts: Which One Should You Choose?
Now that we’ve covered the five Coalition Application essay prompts, how can you figure out which prompt is best suited for you?
Your answers to the following five questions should help give you a sense of which Coalition essay prompts might work better for you based on your experiences and interests:
- Can you easily think of a specific incident in your life that had a major (and positive) effect on you? If so, Prompt 1 would be a good fit for you.
- Are you committed to volunteering or helping others? If so, Prompt 2 sounds like a good choice.
- Did you recently change your mind about something, or are you currently questioning something you always used to believe? If so, Prompt 3 would work great for you.
- Do you have a lot to say about your life as a teenager and contemporary society as a whole? If so, Prompt 4 is your best bet.
- Do you hate feeling confined to specific prompts or already have an essay or topic idea you want to use for the Coalition App? If so, go with Prompt 5.
These questions are just a quick way to help you decide which of the five Coalition essay prompts might work well for you.
If you’re still struggling to decide, though, ask yourself: what do you want to write about most? What topic is calling to you? Is there something you just can’t seem to get out of your head? If so, write about this.
You can then determine whether this topic you have in mind fits one of the prompts above. If not, you can just put it under Prompt 5 and make it an essay of your choice!
Crafting a Great Coalition Application Essay: 4 General Tips
To wrap up, here are four general tips to help you write a great Coalition Application essay, no matter which prompt you choose.
#1: Use Specific Details
In any college essay you write, whether it’s for the Coalition App or another application system, you want to ensure you’re being as specific as possible.
Specificity is what will make an admissions committee remember you. It’s what'll make you stand apart from other applicants, and it’s what'll allow your essay to become a compelling story versus a boring, trite description.
As you write your essay, try to include details that lend a sense of realism to your story. Don’t shy away from imagery and metaphors. Go ahead and mention that tiny dimple that always forms by your little sister’s mouth when she’s excited about something. Write about the smell of the lake where you used to spend your summers as a kid. Give detail wherever it'll enhance your story.
Your goal is for your essay to be memorable. If it’s overly general with very few details the reader can pinpoint, it won’t leave a lasting impression—and that's not a good thing!
#2: Be Yourself
The point of the Coalition Application essay is to show the admissions committee a side of yourself that you feel isn’t represented (either enough or at all) in the rest of your application.
Take this essay as an opportunity to really channel your inner self. Don’t feel as though you need to write in a stiff, formal, scholarly voice. Write how you want to write. Perhaps you’re a fan of flowery metaphors. Or maybe you prefer short, choppy sentences.
Do what comes most natural to you. Remember that you’re not writing an academic essay but a personal essay after all! It’s OK to throw in a joke or two, or to write about something that you find really interesting or important but that others might not think the same way of.
Don’t be afraid to be honest about what you want and who you are. Nevertheless, you should always be both humble and polite in your essay, too.
The key to being humble: picture the admissions committee as a bunch of beautiful mountains.
#3: Focus On Significance
Regardless of the topic you choose for your Coalition Application essay, make sure you’re writing about something important to you.
It doesn’t need to be something that holds significance for everyone—maybe you love playing the cello or you can’t stop coming up with ideas for new toys—but it should be something that means a lot to you specifically.
This will give the admissions committee a much better sense of what kind of person you are, what motivates and inspires you, and how this particular thing has affected you as a person.
Our final tip is to spend a lot of time editing and proofreading your Coalition Application essay!
Once you’ve completed a rough draft of your essay, put it away for a few days. Don't look at during this time. When you take it out again, read it through and note any typos, technical errors, and awkward or irrelevant areas.
After you’ve done this a few times and tweaked your essay as needed, give the draft to someone you trust, such as a parent, a guidance counselor, a teacher, or an older sibling. Have that person offer you comments on anything that’s unclear or that could be improved in your essay.
How does the Coalition Application essay differ from the Common App essay? Our guide will give you the rundown of the major differences between the Coalition and Common App.
What schools accept the Coalition App? It might be more than you think! Check out the full list in our expert guide.
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Hannah received her MA in Japanese Studies from the University of Michigan and holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California. From 2013 to 2015, she taught English in Japan via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.