When it comes to college applications, you have a few options for how you can apply. Two of these are the Common Application (or Common App) and the Coalition Application (or Coalition App).
In this extensive guide to the Coalition vs Common App, we’ll go over the major features of the two application systems and take a look at their biggest pros and cons. We’ll then review the colleges that don’t accept either application system, and offer you tips on whether you should choose the Coalition or Common App.
Coalition vs Common App: What Are They?
The Common Application and Coalition Application are online platforms that allow you to apply to multiple colleges at once. Both systems streamline the college application process by letting students fill out critical details such as their contact information, extracurricular activities, grades, and essays just one time.
Using the Common App and Coalition App is free for students, though you’ll likely have to pay application fees, which can vary depending on the colleges you’re applying to. (If you're worried about these costs, you can apply for a fee waiver.)
To use these two application systems, simply go to their respective websites and make an account. You can then search for colleges that accept the Common App or Coalition App.
The big benefit here is that you can apply to schools through a centralized college application system instead of having to submit all your applications individually. This type of system not only makes the whole college application process a lot easier, but also saves you a ton of valuable time since you won’t have to keep filling out the same information for each school.
Note that some schools require supplementary materials, such as another essay or portfolio, in addition to the basic information required by all schools. You should typically be able to submit these supplementary materials to a school using that school’s application on the Common App or Coalition App.
Now that we've gone over the basics of the two application systems, what are the pros and cons of the Coalition App? The Common App? We take a look at these next.
The Coalition App: Pros and Cons
We’ll start by taking a look at the much newer Coalition App, which was only released in 2015. What makes it a good college application system to use? What makes it difficult? Finally, how does it compare with the Common App? Let's find out.
Advantages of the Coalition App
- Most schools that use the Coalition App offer good financial aid packages to students. In case you didn’t know, the Coalition’s actual name is the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success (makes sense now, doesn’t it?). One of the system’s biggest selling points is its members' emphasis on supporting "lower-income, under-resourced, and/or first-generation students." If you’re worried about money, know that the schools on the Coalition App will be willing to lend you a hand.
- Some popular schools accept the Coalition App but not the Common App. These schools include Rutgers, the University of New Mexico, UT Austin, and the University of Washington.
- The Coalition App's locker feature lets you easily organize and save your information. You can keep track of important materials, such as essays or videos, starting as early as 9th grade. And what's great is that you have unlimited digital space, too!
- You can add people, such as your parents, mentors, counselors, or teachers, to your Coalition account. This lets you conveniently collaborate on any parts of your application with which you might need some extra guidance or advice.
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Disadvantages of the Coalition App
- Far fewer schools accept the Coalition App than they do the Common App. This is the biggest drawback of the Coalition App. According to the official website, 137 schools will be accepting the Coalition App for the 2020-21 school year—but this pales in comparison with the more than 900 schools that accept the Common App.
- The interface can be a little wonky and hard to navigate at times. The Coalition App is still a fairly new application system, so compared with the Common App, its interface might feel a little less intuitive.
The Common App: Pros and Cons
The Common App has been around since 1975 and is well established among colleges. But does this necessarily make it a better application system than the Coalition App? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons.
Advantages of the Common App
- It’s accepted by 900+ colleges, some of which are outside the US. The Common App is by far the most popular and widely used centralized application system. You can see the entire list of schools on the Common App website.
- Because it's been around for more than four decades, many high school counselors and teachers are familiar with how to use it. This fact is especially important when you ask for letters of recommendation from teachers—if they already know how to submit them through the Common App, this will cut their time in half and make the whole application process a lot easier for you as well.
- It offers more essay prompts than other college application systems do. Many schools require applicants to submit a personal statement, and since the Common App offers seven possible prompts to choose from, you’ll have a solid variety of topics to choose from. This is especially helpful if you often struggle to come up with an essay topic on your own.
- The Common App's rollover feature makes it easy to start your applications early and save any information you’ve already filled out. A new edition of the Common App opens each year on August 1, but with the Account Rollover feature, students can retain basic info they’ve already put into their applications without having to start over.
Disadvantages of the Common App
- More than a million students use the Common App each year, and since the staff isn’t huge, it can take a while for them to get back to you if you have a technical issue. This is especially frustrating if you’re trying to turn in a college application right before a deadline and need a response ASAP. Definitely aim to submit all your applications as early as possible, just in case you run into any problems!
- The interface can run slowly at times, especially around application deadlines when more students are rushing to get in their college applications.
Which Colleges Do NOT Accept the Coalition or Common App?
Although the Common App and Coalition App are popular in the college application process, there are many schools that do not accept either the Common App or Coalition App.
With these colleges, you must submit your application through an entirely different system. This could be a different centralized college application system, such as the Universal College App, or, more likely, a platform that’s entirely unique to the school.Here are some well-known schools that do not accept the Common App or Coalition App:
- Brigham Young University
- California State University system
- Loyola University Chicago
- United States Military Academy (West Point)
- United States Naval Academy
- University of California system (including UCLA and UC Berkeley)
In general, public schools are more likely to have their own online application platforms. In addition, some schools that use the Common App and/or Coalition App have their own university systems as well (meaning you can choose whether to apply through the school's online system or the Common App/Coalition App).
The type of application system your schools use in the admissions process will have a big impact on whether you ultimately choose to use the Coalition or Common App (or neither—or both!).
The choice is yours!
Coalition vs Common App: Which Should You Choose?
Before you choose the Common App or Coalition App, it’s important to know that you will not have any disadvantage by choosing one platform over the other. In other words, if given a choice between the Coalition App and Common App, it won’t make any difference whether you apply through one or the other—they’re both viewed equally by schools.
In a recent US News article, Heidi Meyer, executive director of admissions at the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities, states, "We want to students to use whatever application best fits their life and where they are planning on attending or applying for school."
Basically, whether you should use the Common App or Coalition App ultimately depends on your own preferences and what system the schools you’re applying to accept (and don’t accept).
Below are some quick tips to help you make a decision when it comes to the Coalition vs Common App:
Apply Through the Common App If …
- You’re applying to schools that do not accept the Coalition App and/or all your schools accept the Common App. If all the schools you're applying to accept the Common App (and not all use the Coalition App), you’ll save time and energy by choosing the Common App.
Apply Through the Coalition App If …
- All your schools accept the Coalition App and some of them do not use the Common App. If all your schools accept the Coalition App but not all of them use the Common App (e.g., Virginia Tech), then the more practical option is to apply through the Coalition App.
- All your schools use the Coalition App and you prefer the Coalition App's interface and features over those of the Common App. If you want to get started on college applications early and are a fan of the locker feature, for example, the Coalition App will better serve your needs than the Common App will.
Struggling to decide between the Common App and the Universal College App? No worries! We've got an in-depth guide that goes over the biggest pros and cons of each application system.
Trying to write the Common App essay? Let our expert tips lend you a hand!
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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.