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Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

How to Write the Coalition Application Essays 2023-2024

The Coalition Application is relatively new on the college admissions scene compared to the well-established Common App. The essays for both platforms are very open-ended, so it can be overwhelming to get started. In this post, we’ll give you suggestions on how to approach the Coalition Application’s essay prompts.


By the end of this article, you’ll be equipped with admissions essay advice that will be useful no matter which application platform you use, and you’ll be ready to start writing!


What is the Coalition Application?


The Coalition Application was created by a group of college administrators as an alternative to the Common Application. The 2023-2024 application cycle is the fifth full cycle in which the Coalition Application is available. See if your schools are among the over 150 schools that accept the Coalition Application.


Many colleges ask their applicants for the same basic information: your name and address, the classes you took in high school, your GPA, and your test scores. The Coalition Application, like the Common Application, lets you enter all that information into a single platform without having to re-enter it for each new school that you apply for. 


One of the unique features of the Coalition Application is its Locker system. The Locker is an online storage space that allows you to collect and organize your application materials. These materials might include traditional essays and letters of recommendation, but they also could include audio files where you show off your saxophone playing skills or a high-resolution image of your latest experiment in watercolor portraiture. 


This aspect of the Coalition Application is especially useful for students applying to majors in art or music because these programs often want to see and hear what their applicants have already done. Also, some colleges are starting to experiment with alternatives to the traditional “admissions essay.” Instead of 650-word response essay prompts, some schools will allow you to submit a photo essay or a short video clip. Note that when you store something in your Locker, schools will only see it if you specifically permit them.  


More information about the Coalition Application, including tutorial videos that tell you how to navigate its interface, can be found on their website.


Strategizing Your Essay Responses


Before digging into the Coalition Application’s individual essay prompts, let’s take a step back and talk about the role your Coalition essays will play in your application as a whole. 


Before you start writing your essays, it is a good idea to look at the essay requirements for all of the schools on your school list, together. Some of your target schools might just want you to respond to one of the prompts from the Coalition Application. Other schools might want you to write an additional essay that is specific to that school. And some other schools might be using the Common Application instead of the Coalition Application. 


Once you figure out which schools require which essays, you can figure out the exact number of original essays that you will need to write. An essay that you’ve written for the Common Application might work perfectly well as a response to one of the Coalition Application’s prompts. A supplemental essay that you’ve written for a school may also be a good response to another school’s supplemental essay prompt. With some careful planning, you can minimize the number of essays you will need to write and give yourself more time to produce high-quality work. 


After you have looked at the big picture (all the essays that you will need to write), you should focus on the essays for each individual school. Between the Coalition and the supplemental essays, some schools might want two, or three, or even four essays from their applications. Ideally, each essay will help the admissions committee learn something new about you that they would not be able to get from looking at your test scores and grades. 


As an example, a student could have one essay where they discuss their time in the Model United Nations club. In another essay, they might shift the focus from their interest in international relations to their own personal history—maybe they grew up in Brazil and you want to write about the moment when their father first taught them to make abará (a popular dish). A common theme holds these essays together (interest in and connection to cultures that reach across national boundaries), but the focus of each essay is distinct. 


You don’t want to write two or three essays all on the same topic, but you do want your essays to connect to create an image of a complex and authentic individual. The trick is to think about your essays as complementing each other to build a multi-dimensional picture of you. Pick and choose anecdotes and experiences that will make an admissions committee want to invite you to their campus so that they can learn more.


One last note on word count: The Coalition Application suggests that your responses be between 500 and 650 words. However, some individual schools have specific word count limits that are higher or lower. Before you start writing your essays, you’ll want to check the length requirements of the essays for all of your target schools. Want to know your chances at hundreds of different schools? Calculate your chances for free right now.


Coalition Application Essay Prompts

Prompt 1: Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.


Prompt 2: What interests or excites you? How does it shape who you are now or who you might become in the future?


Prompt 3: Describe a time when you had a positive impact on others. What were the challenges? What were the rewards?


Prompt 4: Has there been a time when an idea or belief of yours was questioned? How did you respond? What did you learn?


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?


Prompt 6: Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.

Prompt 1: Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.

The first thing to notice about this prompt is that it encourages you to do something that you should be doing in all of your essays. By asking you to tell a story that “demonstrates your character,” this prompt is asking you to show rather than tell. When writing personal essays, it is easy to list and describe qualities about yourself, but readers are looking for something deeper than that.


You can approach your ‘brainstorming’ for this prompt in one of two ways. If a unique story (that you think you can tell well) comes to mind, start there and consider the ways it could connect to your character. On the other hand, if you don’t have an immediate idea, write down some things about you—your values, your goals, your morals, your family history—that are important to understanding who you are and how you approach the world, then identify some stories that prove your point. 


In either case, your essay itself should use the story to show the character trait. When writing your first draft, you might find yourself writing things like “I always work well with others” and “Family is really important to me.” These are natural to include in your draft, but it’s important to remember that readers won’t be convinced of these claims without a bit of evidence. The admissions committee cannot see how you interact with your friends, family, and co-workers, so the best you can do is give them a story that helps them conceptualize the kind of person you are. 


For your story to be convincing, it must be detailed. It must be written in a way where readers understand the plot (i.e. what happened) and your role within the plot. For example, if you want the admissions committee to know that you are exceptional at thinking quickly to solve problems, you should share a story about a time when you did that—maybe you were holding a carwash fundraiser for the choir in front of your school, but the city cut the school’s water off that day, so you had to think quickly and convince the restaurant across the street to let you hold the car wash in their parking lot. Here, you might want to include your own in-the-moment thoughts when the problem arose, the various people who doubted you when you were trying to solve the problem, some dialogue with the restaurant owner, and some of your personal feelings. These details will humanize you in the eyes of admissions officers.


In the end, the goal of this essay is to tell the admissions committee about you and make them think you would be a valuable addition to their school’s campus. While this prompt asks you to center your essay on an anecdote, it is important not to become trapped by your anecdote. Make sure to connect your anecdote to your overall character, values, morals, or goals. 


This can be done by reflecting on your growth—for example, the student’s success during the carwash could have led to increased confidence, which then helped with their public-speaking skills. It can also be done through references to other values—for example, when the student heard that the power was shut off, they might have remembered their grandmother’s favorite phrase being “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Reflection can even be achieved through anticipating potential situations in the future where the same character value will come in handy. Just make sure that your anecdote is portrayed as emblematic of your overall values, rather than simply an instance where you showed a value.


Finally, you may want to note that this is one of the more flexible essay prompts, and a good response might also fit with many different prompts from the Common Application like the prompt that asks, “The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?” and the prompt that asks “Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.”


Prompt 2: What interests or excites you? How does it shape who you are now or who you might become in the future?

This prompt leaves more room for creativity than many of the other Coalition App prompts as it can be taken in a number of different directions.


One way to approach this question is through an academic lens. For example, if you are a student who went through a unique experience that led to the development of your academic interest, this could be the place to tell that story! That said, keep in mind that this prompt focuses on emotion—specifically excitement. Don’t get so caught up in describing academics that you forget to tell a story. 


Some tips for writing about academic interests with this prompt:


  • Good stories often involve plot twists. Maybe you went to a horticultural therapy program because you were struggling with mental health and, in addition to learning a lot about how you process emotions, discovered an interest in botany. Or maybe you knew that a big wig in the world of machine learning was presenting at a conference in town, so you leveraged connections to volunteer at the conference, but then you ended up discovering an interest in composite materials while you were waiting for your original target. Think about times when you became interested in something unexpectedly.


  • Good stories often involve vivid descriptions. Dig deep as you describe the way your interest excites you. Are you someone who normally feels excited? Why is your academic interest so important to you? Why did you choose to write about academic excitement instead of other interests? If you choose to write about academics, there is a higher bar that must be met for your essay to be convincing. You must show that your academic interest is more than just academic.


On the other hand, this prompt provides a great opportunity to show admissions officers something about you that cannot be captured through your declared major, test scores, extracurriculars, and recommendations. It is your opportunity to geek out about anything you want—a specific moment in history, a television show or movie, a social or linguistic phenomenon, something more personal like telling the story of how your grandmother got to the United States, or anything else.


This prompt gives you two avenues for reflection: thinking backward or thinking forward. Some examples of thinking backward could include:


  • An adopted student who is obsessed with the book Villette by Charlotte Bronte reflecting on the idea that her obsession might stem from the fact that her parental figures are not her biological parents. She read Villette during her formative years and realized that being surrounded by a found family, even if not related to her, was important for her mental health. This caused her to join an international peace organization.


  • A student who was excited by basketball as a child because their home life wasn’t always supportive and their basketball team served as a second family. They could consider what life would have looked like without basketball and how their values of teamwork, support, and hard work stem from their relationship with basketball.


  • A student who founded an organization to help their community learn about organ donation because their best friend lost their father to organ failure describes the moment when they first realized that the ability to raise awareness is a privilege. They describe how their relationship with empathy comes from that realization and how they try to use their position in life to fight for justice.


Some examples of thinking forward could include:


  • A student who bakes cookies when he is anxious anticipating the smells that will emerge from his dorm room during finals. He might create an image of the future where stressed students come together to engage in the Pomodoro method, with taking turns baking cookies serving as their breaks.


  • A student who is very interested in dictatorships throughout history exploring the importance of freedom and the harms of censorship that they have seen through their readings. They could consider contemporary conversations about the role of social media algorithms in censorship and anticipate a future where they start a career in social media to try to limit the influence of politicians on social media algorithms.


No matter which avenue you traverse, keep your passion at the forefront of your mind. This prompt is about excitement and interest, so phoning it in is not an option.


Additionally, this prompt requires a reflective answer. It might as well read “Reflect on how it shapes who you are or who you might become in the future.” You must think deeply to successfully pull this off. Consider why you were first drawn to your interest, what chord within you it strikes, and who you would be if you had never learned about it.


Prompt 3: Describe a time when you had a positive impact on others. What were the challenges? What were the rewards?

This prompt points towards the idea of community service, as it addresses the idea of having “a positive impact,” but you should not feel obligated to write about traditional community service. We positively impact those around us in many ways—through structured community service, through being a good friend, through being a good role model, through calling out others when they are behaving immorally, and more.


With regards to brainstorming, your immediate reactions and ideas can be very helpful. This is because authenticity is important for a prompt like this and a disingenuous response will shine through quite obviously. Consider your first reactions to the following questions: Who is better off because you exist in their life? Who have you gone out of the way to help? Who have you accidentally helped? What groups (identities, organizations, cultural groups) are you a part of? Do you make those groups better? How?


After identifying your positive impact, like with Prompt 1, you’ll want to offer a specific story with carefully chosen details, then you’ll want to connect it all back to who you are as a person. You might want to approach your brainstorming with the following four categories in mind, as they will ultimately need to be addressed in your writing:


  1. Your positive impact
  2. A story that shows your positive impact
  3. The challenges and rewards of the story
  4. What the story and your impact show about you as an individual


If you choose to write about structured community service, you will address a common suspicion among admissions officers: the value of the lengthy activity lists that students use to pad resumes. If you can write a compelling essay about your sincere passion for the volunteer and service work you’ve done, this essay can convince skeptical admissions officers to take your activity list seriously. 


That said, if you are going to write about volunteer work you’ve done in disadvantaged communities, you want to speak with humility and maturity about the extent of your contributions and the challenges you encountered. There is a difference between saying, “I organized a food drive where we brought canned goods to the needy!” and actually going out into your community to work with existing organizations to identify real needs.


If you have a sincere and long-standing commitment to service, write about the people you worked with, what you’ve learned about logistics and organizing, and how your education might help you continue doing that work.


With this essay, it is important to remember that admissions officers understand the scale of opportunities available to typical high school students. You don’t need to tell a story about having single-handedly defeated the scourge of hunger in your community. Try focusing on small “goods” that you have helped your organization achieve—like with the example from above, maybe the student made budget projections that helped convince a grocer to contribute more fresh produce during the winter. A “meaningful” contribution need not be of earth-shaking consequence. 


Finally, “a positive impact” does not necessarily have to tackle a big issue or have consequences for large numbers of people. It can be closer to home. Maybe you have spent a lot of time providing care for a sick relative, or you quit the high school soccer team because you needed to babysit your little brother when your mom had to take an evening shift. Just make sure that you explain the positive impact of your actions and reflect on what they mean to you and the person(s) they impacted.


Prompt 4: Has there been a time when an idea or belief of yours was questioned? How did you respond? What did you learn?

When responding to this question, one thing to recognize is that you do not have to tell a story about how you suddenly changed your mind about an issue you care about. In fact, a quick change might position you as lacking strength of character or deep thought. Instead, you can talk with nuance about how you moved from one side of an issue to another, weaving back and forth as you accumulate new perspectives. 


For example, maybe you’re a Muslim woman who grew up in Iran. Since hijabs are required in public for all women, you saw the veil as a symbol of oppression and suppression of women’s rights. It was only when you moved to the US that you realized that some women want and choose to wear a hijab. You became friends with someone who proudly wore one as a symbol of her religious identity, and to distance herself from toxic beauty standards. After learning about the banning of the veil in some European countries, you also realize that the hijab can be a symbol of religious freedom.


We offer the above example to suggest that it is okay to take on difficult issues in your admissions essays. What matters is not that you end up on the “liberal” or “conservative” side of a given issue so much as that you show you can write carefully and thoughtfully. When you go to college, you will be exploring difficult questions all the time. Demonstrating the capacity to explore complex issues maturely and respectfully can help strengthen your admissions profile. 


Keep your audience in mind, however. If you’re applying to a socially conservative school like Liberty University, maybe don’t write your essay on transgender rights. On the other hand, if you’re applying to the liberal Oberlin College, don’t write your essay in support of ICE. (You should also consider your fit with the school if you have extremely contrasting views with the majority of the student body).


We’d also encourage you to avoid writing an essay along the lines of: “I used to not understand and didn’t accept [X group of people], but now I do.” While it’s great that you’re now more open-minded and accepting, it may lead admissions officers to wonder if you’re open-minded enough for their campus.


Always remember that the best topics are deeply personal and allow you to share your own experiences. The purpose of a college admissions essay is to tell admissions officers about you and the way you think, not to educate them on an issue or persuade them to agree with you.


If you do decide to talk about a controversial topic, it might be worth checking out CollegeVine’s blog post Can I talk About Politics on my College application?


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?

Students often think that this prompt requires an exploration of trauma, but that is not necessarily accurate. While exploring trauma could prove interesting, you need not have experienced a life-altering obstacle to answer this prompt in a moving way. Admissions officers are more interested in your approach to obstacles and your reflection on obstacles than the severity of them. 


It is important to remember that the ultimate goal of admissions officers is to identify students that will thrive on their school’s campus. They have been to college themselves and understand the challenges that come up and want to accept students who are up for the challenges. All you have to do is show them that you are mature, resilient, thoughtful, and interested in growth!


This prompt is two-fold. You must look back and identify a success you’ve achieved or an obstacle you’ve overcome, then look forward and identify advice you would give to someone else in your situation. This can also be conceptualized as advising your past self. Prompts and essays can often be divided into the categories ‘anecdotal’ and ‘reflective,’ but this prompt is clearly asking for both.


When brainstorming, you might want to consider the two parts of this prompt (the anecdote and the reflection) separately. That said, like with Prompt 1, you can start in either place. If you quickly think of an obstacle you want to explore, start there. Think deeply about the experience. Why was overcoming that obstacle so important to you? What did you learn from overcoming the obstacle? What would have made it easier to overcome the obstacle? Do you even wish it had been easier? What have been some specific moments when you have seen your growth (from that obstacle) showing up in your life? How does your obstacle fit into the bigger picture of your life?  These questions will help you figure out your reflection.


On the other hand, if an obstacle does not automatically come to mind, you might try writing down some fundamental beliefs of yours that you can find a story to match. This could include things like the value you place on hard work, your belief in the importance of open communication in friendships, the way you constantly remind yourself that you can’t change the past when you are beating yourself up for past mistakes. How did those beliefs come to be? Another brainstorming technique here involves thinking about the advice you regularly give those around you, then finding an authentic anecdote to match. 


For example, a student might always find themself asking their friends who are experiencing anxiety over life situations, “do you think this fear is related to the current situation or could it be a fear from the past sneaking into your mind?” That student might consider where they learned about the past intruding on the present, then might write their essay about how, throughout high school, their friendships with other girls have been hindered by the way their sister treated them as a child. Their complex relationship with their sister would be the obstacle that answers the first half of the prompt, while their advice about not letting the past intrude on the present would answer the second half of the prompt.


After you’ve figured out your anecdote and what you have to say about your anecdote, you should consider ways of structuring your essay. This will probably come naturally, but it is important to recognize that your essay does not have to start with the anecdote, then move into reflection. You can start with reflection, interweave reflection throughout, adopt a unique form like letters or flashbacks that incorporates reflection creatively, or do anything else you want here. Structure is yours to play around with!


This essay prompt has immense potential if approached in a thoughtful and reflective manner. It’s also worth noting that it’s very similar to the Common App prompt: The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? If you’re planning to use the Common App as well, this, along with Prompt #1, are good options to reduce the amount of writing you’ll need to do.


Prompt 6: Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.

Your last option is the ‘wildcard’ option, and you can use it in several different ways. 


First, maybe the school you are applying for only uses the Coalition Application, but you really like the essay that you wrote for the Common Application prompt “Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time.” It is perfectly acceptable to simply submit that essay with a few minor tweaks. For strategies about how to write the Common App, check out CollegeVine’s Common App Essay guide


But, even aside from your Common App essay, the possibilities for this essay are endless. For those of you who feel compelled to take some risks to stand out from the crowd, we’d like to close this article by offering some potential creative avenues.


One idea that plays a bit with the clichés of the college admissions essay would be to pick a fight with a famous quote. Admissions officers are very tired of seeing quotes from notables appear in college essays, trotted out to add a layer of profundity that often sounds more like rote recitation. You could do something different with a quote.


By choosing a particular quote and deconstructing it, you can demonstrate an agile mind and springboard off your response to the quote in order to share something of your own intellectual interests and personal experience. For example, Joseph Stalin supposedly said, “One death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.” A dark quote, for sure. But what if you argue that Stalin got it wrong on two counts? First, he is wrong to suggest that literature cannot represent the many. Second, Stalin is perhaps even more wrong to suggest that statistics exist in the world of brute fact apart from aesthetics. After pulling apart this quote, you might talk about your own interest in studying both literature and statistics to understand how both disciplines try to tell the story of “the many.”


Some other prompts that could elicit interesting responses include:


  • Write about a moment from your past that you feel very distant from. What has changed since then? Was the change for the better?
  • What is the best advice you have either given or received and what made it so valuable?
  • Write about a fictional character who you relate to—for better or worse.
  • What do you wish everyone knew about you right off the bat? Why?


While these suggestions may not apply to your interests, you should consider employing a similar level of creativity. If you’re really stuck trying to come up with an essay, it might help to take a walk on the wild side before returning to your “normal” work with a fresh pair of eyes. And, who knows, maybe you’ll stumble over something interesting in the process. Good luck!


View the essay prompts for hundreds of schools in our Essay Prompts Database.


Is Your Coalition Application Essay Strong Enough?


If you’re applying to top schools, having a standout essay is vital to your chances of admission. This is because selective colleges have more than enough academically-qualified candidates, so they look to your essays to distinguish between applicants. That’s why it’s vital that your essays are engaging, and present you as someone who’d be a strong addition to the college community.


After reading your essays over and over, it can be difficult to judge your writing objectively. That’s why we created our Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. Reading and editing other students’ essays will also help you improve your writing skills. 


If you’d rather have your work read by an admissions expert, we also offer affordable essay review services where you can get feedback and guidance on any step of the essay-writing process.


We highly recommend using these tools to submit your best work and increase your chances of acceptance!

Short Bio
Our college essay experts go through a rigorous selection process that evaluates their writing skills and knowledge of college admissions. We also train them on how to interpret prompts, facilitate the brainstorming process, and provide inspiration for great essays, with curriculum culled from our years of experience helping students write essays that work.