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 six 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 six 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 six 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.
- What interests or excites you? How does it shape who you are now or who you might become in the future?
- Describe a time when you had a positive impact on others. What were the challenges? What were the rewards?
- Has there been a time when an idea or belief of yours was questioned? How did you respond? What did you learn?
- What success have you achieved or obstacle have you faced? What advice would you give a sibling or friend going through a similar experience?
- 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 6 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
What interests or excites you? How does it shape who you are now or who you might become in the future?
As a high school student, there's probably a lot that interests you. The trick with this essay prompt is to choose one topic that you can tie into your future goals while still sharing your passion. Remember: your goal with writing college essays is to show admissions counselors that you're a good fit for their school. That includes showcasing why you'd be a great student!
Tips for Answering This Prompt
- Pick a unique interest, and make it specific. Many students will be excited about things like "medicine" or "technology." To make your essay stand out, you need to be specific about your interest and share why it's unique. For example, instead of saying, "I'm excited about medicine," you could say, "After my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, I became passionate about advancements with CRISPR and how they might be able to treat or cure cancer in the future."
- Share your excitement. This prompt is giving you the chance to showcase one of your passions. Lean into it! Don't be afraid to convey how excited you are about this topic, or why you're interested in learning more about it.
- Focus on personal growth. Along with picking something that interests you and explaining it, the prompt also asks you to explain how that interest shapes you as a person. To do this, you'll need to look at yourself now, and then imagine how your passion will affect you in the future as well. For example, if you're passionate about CRISPR and cancer research, you can talk about how it's driven you to pursue an internship with your local hospital, and how you hope to work with a research lab to develop medical technology that saves lives in the future.
- A club you've joined, like a language club or service organization, that relates to your passion. For example, has volunteering as part of the National Honor Society inspired your passion for helping refugees, which is why you want to work for the government and advocate for immigration policies?
- A hobby you have, like building drones from scratch or working in a community garden, that you love to pursue. Perhaps your love for drones has made you excited about how drones could be used in rescue situations, which is why you want to become a mechanical engineer!
- An experience you had that sparked your passion. For example, maybe you were in a car accident because one of your city's intersections is pretty dangerous. That experience sparked your passion for city planning, which is why you want to become an urban developer!
Pitfalls to Avoid
- Faking a passion. Don't fabricate a passion or interest because it's what you think admissions committees want to hear. Choose something you're really passionate about, even if it's a little different. Readers will be able to tell if you're being honest or not!
- Being too vague. Choosing a general interest, like "animals" or "science," is too wide-ranging for an essay like this. Admissions counselors want to really get to know what drives you, so be specific! For example, maybe you're passionate about improving animal welfare on farms. That's more specific than just "animals," and it gives you a chance to talk about how your passions shape your future goals.
- Forgetting to talk about your personal growth. If you're excited about a topic, it's easy to get carried away talking about it! But remember: this prompt has two sections you have to answer. To correctly answer this prompt, you'll also need to write about how your passions shape you as a person now and will continue to do so in the future. For instance, perhaps your passion for animal welfare has inspired your goal for creating a non-profit that educates farmers about new technologies that can improve animals' health and quality of life.
Coalition Essay Prompt 3
Describe a time when you had a positive impact on others. What were the challenges? What were the rewards?
This second essay prompt is more specific than the one above and asks you to discuss a time in your life when you made a difference for other people. This can be on a small scale, like helping a friend or family member. But you can also think big as well. Maybe you made a positive impact on a whole community or organization!
This prompt is also asking you to address any challenges or struggles you faced while making this positive contribution, and the benefits or rewards you received from the situation.
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. And definitely don't make a situation up!
- 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. Get specific about the positive impact you made. How did you help others, and how did that impact them? That will let you dig into the challenges--and the rewards--with more authenticity.
- 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.
- Focusing on actual rewards. This goes back to being humble. Admissions counselors aren't interested in the certificate or medal you earned from helping others. They want to know about the intangible takeaways. How did this experience change you or shape the way you think about the world? Focus on the intangible rewards in your response.
Coalition Essay Prompt 4
Has there been a time when an idea or belief of yours was questioned? How did you respond? What did you learn?
It can be difficult to respond to someone who rationally challenges an idea or belief you have. This Coalition essay prompt is all about open-mindedness and how you respond to counterarguments. The goal is to share what you learned from this tough experience.
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 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!
- Ignoring the takeaways. This prompt specifically asks you about what you learned from the experience. Managing challenging situations can be a great way to grow as a person...and that's what admissions committees want to hear about in this essay!
Being a teenager today is all about brooding next to chain link fences.
Coalition Essay Prompt 5
What success have you achieved or obstacle have you faced? What advice would you give a sibling or friend going through a similar experience?
This prompt has two separate questions you have to answer. The first asks you to pick either a success or an obstacle and explain the situation. You'll have to pick one or the other--either write about a success you had or an obstacle you faced, but not both.
The second part of the prompt asks you to give advice to a peer based on what you learned from the situation. In this section, admissions counselors want to see how you can help other people who are going through situations that you've experienced yourself.
Tips for Answering This Prompt
- Choose a unique situation to you. Many students have dealt with obstacles like a bad test grade or successes like winning a sports match. To make this prompt work, you'll need to think of a specific, unique situation and explain it to the reader.
- Tell a story. To really answer this prompt, you'll need to explain the success or obstacle you faced. Show, don't tell, in this situation. Walk the reader through your experience and the steps you took to succeed--or overcome--in that situation.
- Don't skip on the advice. Admissions counselors want to see that you have the leadership skills to walk someone through navigating a similar situation. Specifically, you should be aware that other people may not have the same experiences or privileges you have. That means you'll need to spend some time crafting thoughtful, empathetic advice that another person can use.
- Consider unusual situations you've navigated. For instance, maybe you're an avid hiker, and you found yourself lost in the woods one day without a cell phone. That's definitely an obstacle that admissions counselors wouldn't read about every day! The same is true for successes. Maybe you finally succeeded in making your grandmother's complicated apple pie recipe. The point is that you want your success or obstacle to be unique to you so that it stands out from the crowd.
- Think about the advice only you could give. All of us can tell someone else to "try hard and focus." However, admissions counselors want to see how you can translate your unique life experiences to help another person. For instance, maybe you have a sibling with a disability that you've helped support over the years. Someone in that situation could use advice from another person who's been-there-done-that. Additionally, this gives you the opportunity to show admissions counselors the diverse experiences and perspectives you'll bring to their campus.
Pitfalls to Avoid
- Not giving "life advice." When you choose a specific situation, it's easy to get bogged down in explaining the exact steps you took to overcome it. However, the goal here is for you to give advice that people from other walks of life can actually use. So for instance, if you're writing about succeeding in making your grandmother's pie recipe, make sure you write about more than just figuring out how to make a pie crust. Focus on the bigger picture, like working on each part of the recipe one at a time until you get it right.
- Forgetting empathy. Obstacles can be hard to overcome. As you give your advice, be sure to be kind and empathetic as you craft your response. Remember that others may not have the privileges you do. So for instance, if your solution to getting lost in the woods was going out and buying a $500 GPS so it wouldn't happen again...that's not advice everyone could follow. Instead, think about the mental resilience or skills people from all walks of life could learn to overcome that situation.
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Coalition Essay Prompt 6
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 or Prompt 3 would be a good fit for you.
- Are you committed to volunteering or helping others? If so, Prompt 3 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 4 would work great for you.
- Do you have a unique obstacle in your life that you've overcome? If so, Prompt 5 could be a great choice.
- 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 6.
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.