What are your chances of acceptance?

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 2016-2017

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The 2016-2017 application cycle marks the debut of the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success application platform, commonly referred to as the Coalition Application. Like the Common Application, the Coalition Application provides a platform with which students can apply to any of its member schools with a single application, saving students the hassle of inputting the same basic information for each school to which they apply.


What distinguishes the Coalition Application from other similar platforms like the Common Application or the Universal College Application is the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success’ commitment to making college affordable and accessible for students of all socioeconomic backgrounds.


All of its 52 member colleges either provide financial aid that meets 100% of student’s demonstrated need (for private colleges) or provide low-cost tuition for in-state students (for public colleges). If you have more questions about the Coalition or their mission of affordability and accessibility, you can check out their FAQ page.


Like other shared applications, the Coalition Application has a set of essay questions, from which each student must respond to one prompt. Without further ado, we present the 2016-2017 guide to responding to the Coalition Application essay questions.


Before you begin brainstorming your essay topic, note that the Coalition Application describes the ideal essay length as 300-400 words, and strongly recommends that responses not exceed 500-550 words. Thus, essay topics should be simple enough to fit into the defined word limit, while also complex enough to offer meaningful insight into your personality, skills, and motivations.


If you find yourself struggling to fit your essay within the word count, we recommend first writing a draft without regard for word count, and then editing down until the only content remaining in your essay is that which is absolutely essential to communicating your story. If you still exceed the recommended limit, consider your sentence structure, tense usage, and word choice — you may be able to cut down your word count significantly by making slight alterations in these areas.


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


This prompt looks for a meaningful, personal anecdote that allows the school to see the applicant’s character. If you also completed the Common App and your essay answered prompt 1 (background identity)2 (an incident of failure), or 5 (transitioning to adulthood), you may be able to re-work it into an answer for this prompt. However, keep this specific question in mind when you are updating your essay: how did the events you described shape or demonstrate your character?


You could approach this two ways: “shape” or “demonstrate.” For “shape,” this will likely be an event that happened a longer time ago, when the character you display today would have been forming. It will also be a more passive example — the focus will be more on the event happening to you and your reaction to it rather than something you did. An example might be a lesson you learned as a child that changed how you treat other people or view the world. For “demonstrate,” the opposite is true: the event should be closer to today as you show through the anecdote an aspect of your current personality, and the focus will be more on what you personally did. For example, this might be an anecdote about an academic subject you pursued independently or a project you formulated to help others.


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.


Since this prompt has no real Common App equivalent, reusing an essay is not an option here. When we think of the greater good, we often think of sacrifice, so another way to approach this question is to think of a selfless act of sacrifice that benefitted others. While your first instinct might be to use this essay as a platform to write about all the community service projects you did in high school, try to think beyond that. Community service projects, especially if you generated your own and have a compelling story behind it, can be a great response to this prompt, but the university likely sees plenty of essays about the applicant’s volunteer work. This essay doesn’t have to be about a huge, long-term project, but rather encourages you to think of something small you have done where the focus was not on yourself but on others and the good of the community. What’s important is that this anecdote demonstrates something greater about your interests, passions, and personality.


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?


Beware of only seeing the keywords of this prompt and mistakenly thinking it is asking the same question as prompt 3 of the Common App (“Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea”)! This prompt asks for a belief that you held that was challenged, rather than you being the challenger. You may be able to use some of the same brainstorming to answer this, but under no circumstances should the essay be the same. Instead, consider how your beliefs have changed over time. A good way to think of a belief you once held but now have changed may be something that you disagree with your parents about. What changed your perspective and why? Perhaps the most important part of the question is “How did you respond?” — since coming into contact with people who will challenge your beliefs is one of the best and most crucial parts of college, the university wants to know how you will respond to this sort of debate.


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)?


This prompt asks you to generalize your experience into the experiences of your generation. How well can you separate the things that affected you from the things that affected other teenagers of today? For this essay, use your knowledge of current and recent-historical events. A lot has happened in the past two decades, and how it feels to be a teenager now is something the admissions officers reading your essay will never know firsthand. How did 9/11 and subsequent events influence your childhood and adolescence? What about the Internet? Especially in this application cycle, how does it feel to be at an age that is old enough to be closely following the current presidential election, but may not be old enough to vote? Finally, the prompt asks for advice that you would give a younger sibling or friend: how would you help them through their teenage years?


Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.


If you are pressed for time, or have no other ideas, here is your chance to re-use any essay you already have written. However, if you choose not to answer one of the prompts the university asks for, you must ensure that the essay on a topic of your choice is unique, very well-written, and gives the university a good introduction to you as a person.


If you prefer not to reuse an essay, this prompt is as free as it gets, and that freedom can be overwhelming. A good starting point is to go in depth into one – just one! – of the extracurricular activities you enjoy. By writing about why you enjoy it and especially what you dislike, fear, or feel challenged by, you the university a greater depth of character than would be shown in your resume. To further humanize yourself, you could also try writing about something you enjoy that isn’t shown at all in your application itself — think of what you really do in your free time and why it is meaningful to you.


Be cautious when reusing essays you have previously written. If you have the time and energy, writing a new essay from scratch usually results in a better essay anyway. However, reused essays can be valid responses to many of these prompts as long as you keep the Coalition Application’s specific prompt in mind.


Want help with your college essays to improve your admissions chances? Sign up for your free CollegeVine account and get access to our essay guides and courses. You can also get your essay peer-reviewed and improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.


Anamaria Lopez
Managing Editor

Short Bio
Anamaria is an Economics major at Columbia University who's passionate about sharing her knowledge of admissions with students facing the applications process. When she's not writing for the CollegeVine blog, she's studying Russian literature and testing the limits of how much coffee one single person can consume in a day.