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Duke University
Duke University
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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

Common App vs. Coalition App: Which to Use?

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The Common Application has been the application of choice for many colleges for years. Created in 1975, the application allows students the convenience of only having to fill out their personal information and achievements once.


Many colleges have supplements with additional essays and short-answer prompts, but the application still means less work overall compared with the days when each school required a separate application.


With more than 700 member schools, the Common Application hasn’t faced much competition. But now, the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success offers an alternative.


Created in September 2015, the Coalition application emphasizes affordability. Colleges must offer affordable tuition or sufficient financial aid, as well as meet or exceed “rigorous” graduation requirements. While the Coalition application started small, more than 100 schools are now members, with many more projected to join next school year. 


Both require colleges to be nonprofit, degree-granting, accredited, and place an emphasis on equality. So what’s the difference? And which one should you use?



Application Overlaps

The applications are similar in construction. Both applications require essays, and many schools have supplements. Both applications offer an essay topic of your choice, along with specified topics.


Neither application will give you an edge in the admissions process. All Ivies and many other highly selective schools accept both applications. Additionally, both are free to use, although you will have to pay application fees to individual schools or obtain a fee waiver.



Traits Unique to the Coalition Application

The Coalition application emphasizes diversity and equality, and aims to include underrepresented students. Several actions on the application communicate this idea.


For instance, students may report different types of activities, such as an Academic Activity or Family Responsibilities—allowing students from working class families to describe the commitments that may prevent them from participating in more traditional extracurriculars and clubs.


The most notable difference is the Coalition’s locker tool. This tool allows students to store documents, such as papers, essays, and recommendations, starting in 9th grade, so they won’t lose track of any important documents when it’s time to apply.



Traits Unique to the Common Application

The activity sections are a bit different. The Common App asks you to rank your top 10 activities in order of importance to you, while the Coalition application asks you to provide your top two and then list up to eight total.


However, you will have more space to describe each activity in the Coalition application—64 characters for the activity itself versus 50 in the Common App, and 255 characters to describe the activity in the Coalition, compared with 150 in the Common App.


Another measure of convenience the Common App provides is the ability to only list more recent coursework, while the Coalition requires students to list all grades and courses throughout high school.


If it feels tedious to list all your grades and courses, you may want to opt to use the Common App. However, if you appreciate the convenience of the locker tool, the Coalition Application might be the way to go. Remember that no college is going to penalize you for using one over the other, unless, of course, it only accepts one of the two, so it really comes down to personal preference.


Now the Big Question. Which Application Should You Use?

The application you should use depends on your personal circumstances. The Common App is accepted by more institutions—although the Coalition application is gaining popularity. Some schools, such as the University of Maryland and the University of Washington, only accept the Coalition Application. It’s more likely, however, that more schools on your list will only accept the Common App.


If you’re not sure of which one to use, start by identifying which colleges on your list accept one over the other. If more colleges accept, say, the Common App, that’s the one to use. If most of the schools accept both applications, then look at the essay prompts, and choose the application with the essay prompt that appeals to you more.


The Common App is more established, so it may be easier to navigate, and you know what to expect when using it. Meanwhile, the Coalition application encourages equality and promotes education for low-income students, so if a school is a member, you’ll know that you can expect your tuition to be affordable—or you’re likely to receive decent financial aid. Additionally, the locker tool can help you stay organized.


Ultimately, neither application will give you an advantage in the admissions process, so it’s not a risk to use one over the other. Whichever application seems like the better fit for you is the one to use.


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Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.