Coalition vs. Common App: Which One Should You Choose?

Thursday, January 11, 2024

The Coalition Application and the Common Application are two platforms that streamline the college application process. While both serve the common goal of simplifying the application experience, they differ in several ways. Understanding the distinctions between the Coalition and Common App can help you make informed decisions about which platform aligns better with your preferences and the requirements of the colleges on your balanced list. 

What Is the Common App? 

So, what is the Common App? The Common Application, or Common App, is the most popular college application platform in the U.S. Used by more than 1,000 colleges and universities in the U.S. and abroad, the Common App allows you to apply to up to 20 schools using one centralized application — high school students and transfer students can use this platform. You submit personal and academic information on the platform and respond to one of the personal statement prompts. This information goes to each school to which you apply. You can also submit supplemental materials required by individual colleges via the Common App.  

What Is the Coalition App? 

The Coalition Application is very similar to the Common App in that it’s a centralized platform students can use to apply to multiple colleges. It’s available to first-year, transfer, and international applicants. As of the 2023-24 application cycle, approximately 150 colleges and universities use the Coalition App — many of which also use the Common App. The Coalition Application is focused on making college more accessible to historically underrepresented students, and its member schools are aligned with this mission. This means they must meet certain criteria regarding tuition costs, need-based financial aid, and graduation rates. Read our Coalition App guide to learn more.  

What Are the Key Differences Between Coalition and Common App? 

While there are many similarities between the two platforms, it’s important to understand how they differ, especially if you’re applying to schools that use both. Knowing the key differences between them can help you decide which one best fits your needs.

Application Requirements and Layout 

The application process for the Coalition Application and Common App are similar in terms of the information you are required to submit. However, they have some differences in layout. Let’s take a deeper dive into each one.  

Coalition Application 

The first step in filling out the Coalition Application is to create a Scoir account — you can do this as early as ninth grade. Once you sign up, complete the My Profile section, which asks you for personal and family details, as well as information on your academic record and activities. Then, you can build your college list using Discover, which matches you with schools based on your preferences. Your list of schools is saved on the My Colleges page. The Coalition App does not limit the number of schools where you can apply.   

Applying to schools is a two-step process. As you complete the application questions and essay in step one, you will make progress on multiple college applications at the same time — relevant information from My Profile will automatically be imported. Once you complete this section, be sure to review the information carefully since you will be unable to edit once you begin step two of the application. For step two, you will be taken to each college’s website to complete their application supplements. This process uses a single sign-on for a seamless and convenient experience.  

In general, you can expect to provide the following information during the application process: 

  • Personal, family, and demographic information 
  • Application fee (unless you’re eligible for a fee waiver) 
  • Test scores (if applicable) 
  • Coalition essay 
  • School-specific supplemental essay(s) 
  • Letter(s) of recommendation 
  • Courses and grades 
  • Portfolio (if applicable) 
  • Activities and achievements 

Common App 

Before you can start filling out the Common App, you must first sign up for an account. Then you can use the College Search feature to add colleges to your list. The Common App allows you to apply to up to 20 schools. Once you have added the colleges to your list, you can begin the application process. The Common App contains several sections:  

  • Profile: name, gender, address, contact details, demographics, language, geography and nationality, and fee waiver (if applicable) 
  • Family: information about members of your household  
  • Education: all secondary/high schools attended, colleges/universities attended (if applicable), grades (class rank and GPA), most recent coursework completed, honors, and future plans  
  • Testing: scores for the SAT, ACT, AP, IB, TOEFL, IELTS, Duolingo English test, and more 
  • Activities: 10 activities in order of importance/relevance  
  • Writing: 650 words or fewer in response to one of the Common App essay prompts 
  • Courses and Grades: high school courses, grades, and transcript 

This information makes up the basic application that goes to each of the schools on your list, if applicable. Additional requirements will vary by school.

Essay Prompts and Supplemental Materials

In addition to the Coalition Application or Common App essay prompts — which differ between the platforms but touch on similar themes — many colleges and universities require applicants to write supplemental essays. The prompts are typically unique to each school and can vary in length. Additionally, applicants might need to submit supplemental materials, such as a portfolio of work — this is common for students applying to programs in the fine arts, performing arts, or architecture.   

Students using the Common App will submit these supplemental essays and materials within the platform. Coalition Application users are taken to each school’s website to submit these additional materials.  

Collaboration Tools and Resources 

Both platforms incorporate robust collaboration tools and resources to enhance the college application experience and facilitate collaboration among students, counselors, teachers, and recommenders throughout the application process. Collaboration is a critical part of the college admissions process, so it’s important to be aware of the differences in how these tools function between platforms.  

The Coalition App allows you to link to your high school — but only if your school uses Scoir. This allows you to collaborate with your counselor on the platform. You can send direct messages, receive feedback on your college search, and coordinate the submission of application materials as you start filling out your application. Need college recommendation letters? If you’re linked to your high school, you can request them from your teacher through the My Colleges page in the Coalition App. 

Additionally, you can invite a parent or guardian to link to you in Scoir so they can provide suggestions on your college list and direct message you and your counselor. You can also find resources on the Scoir website to help you better navigate the college admissions process, including a blog, podcasts, and videos.  

The Common Application allows seamless collaboration between you and your support network. You can invite counselors, teachers, and mentors to help you track progress on your applications, manage deadlines, and view individual college requirements. The platform also facilitates the electronic submission of recommendation letters and other necessary documents.   

Student Support and Guidance 

The college admissions process and application requirements can be confusing, which is why the Common App and Coalition App offer additional support and guidance.  

On the Coalition App, you can find tools that help you compare colleges, explore careers, calculate tuition costs, and sign up for college visits and events. Scoir also provides access to a database of thousands of colleges and universities, including international colleges, to help you with your college search. Additionally, you can find an entire library of resources that help you navigate the Coalition App. A support team is also available via email to address any questions or technical issues you may have while using the platform.   

The Common App offers downloadable guides that can help you better understand the college admissions process, work through your application, and learn more about application fees, fee waivers, financial aid, how to find scholarships, and more. You can also find videos on the Common App website that walk you through the application process. You can speak with a digital assistant if you have questions, check out FAQs in the Solutions Center, or submit a request for support.  

Pros & Cons: Common App vs. Coalition App 

As we previously mentioned, both the Common App and Coalition App make the college application process more efficient and convenient. Despite both offering a more streamlined process and plenty of other advantages, they each have disadvantages, too. 

Advantages of the Coalition App 

The Coalition App offers several advantages: 

  • Member schools are known to provide significant financial support and resources to underrepresented and low-income students.  
  • You can access it starting in ninth grade, which gives you more time to conduct your college search and save relevant documents.  
  • You have access to resources and tools that track the progress of your college application.  
  • The Locker feature allows you to store various documents you will need for your college application, including multimedia files to showcase a creative portfolio or specific project.  
  • You can describe up to eight extracurricular activities in greater detail than the Common App allows.  
  • The college search database contains thousands of schools, including those that don’t use the Coalition App.  
  • It allows you to collaborate and receive feedback from counselors, teachers, mentors, and parents.  
  • You can choose from among several personal essay prompts.  
  • It’s free — the only costs you incur are the application fees for each school unless you qualify for a fee waiver.  

Disadvantages of the Coalition App 

While the Coalition App saves you time and stress, it also has some disadvantages. 

  • Only 150 colleges use the Coalition App — none of which use it exclusively.  
  • Students can only link to counselors if their high school has a paid Scoir account. Counselors and teachers can still submit required documents and recommendation letters without a Scoir account, but they do not have access to collaboration tools.   
  • The Coalition App is sometimes less intuitive and harder to navigate than the Common App. 
  • It may require more technological proficiency, as it includes features like file uploads and online collaboration. 
  • The Scoir mobile app is only for iOS and has limited functionality. For example, it does not allow you to work on your application. Students must use the web-based platform for full functionality. 
  • It’s not as well known as the Common App.  

Advantages of the Common App 

The Common App is a much more popular platform that offers several advantages.  

  • It’s accepted by approximately 1,000 colleges and universities across the U.S. and internationally, including many popular schools.  
  • The rollover feature allows you to roll over your account from year to year, so you can create an account well before you start your application.  
  • The application process is streamlined and standardized, making it easier to manage multiple applications. 
  • Several personal statement prompts are provided, allowing you to choose one that fits you best.  
  • The platform simplifies the submission of documents like transcripts and letters of recommendation 
  • It boasts a user-friendly interface and intuitive navigation for a smoother application experience. 
  • It’s free to use, though the schools you apply to may have application fees unless you are eligible for a fee waiver. 
  • The mobile app offers the same functionality as the web-based platform and is available on both Apple and Android devices.  
  • It provides deadline reminders to help you stay on track.  
  • Counselors and recommenders can sign up for free, making it easy for you to invite them to collaborate on your application.  
  • You can use the Additional Information section to include extra information that isn’t mentioned elsewhere in your application, such as coursework you completed outside of school, additional awards, situations outside of your control that impacted your academic performance, etc.  
  • It’s easy to preview how your admissions essays will look after they are submitted.  
  • The platform confirms when letters of recommendation are submitted.  

Disadvantages of the Common App 

  • The platform sometimes crashes during peak times, such as the hours preceding a submission deadline.  
  • You are limited to applying to a maximum of 20 schools. (How many colleges should you apply to? We recommend 10-15.) 
  • Not all schools use it, so you may still need to fill out other applications completely from scratch.  
  • The college search database is limited only to the schools that use the Common App.  

Which Colleges Don’t Use the Coalition or Common App? 

There are thousands of colleges and universities across the U.S., and many of them do not accept either the Common or Coalition applications. Instead, they have their own application platforms that students must use. Some of the more prominent examples include Georgetown University, the University of California system, and MIT. Other schools that use their own applications include: 

Coalition vs. Common App: Which One Is the Better Choice? 

As you build a balanced college list, pay attention to whether these schools accept the Common App, Coalition Application, or both — choosing which platform to use may be a matter of compatibility with the schools on your list. If all the schools on your list accept both, then you might choose which one is best for you in terms of personal preference and ease of use. Colleges and universities that accept both do not prefer one over the other, so it’s completely up to you. 

Another consideration is access to financial aid. Remember that the Coalition Application specifically partners with schools that provide generous financial aid packages and/or low-cost tuition. This can take a lot of the guesswork out of figuring out which colleges and universities may be more accessible to you financially.  

Ultimately, it’s not the application platform that matters as much as the strength of your application. And who better to guide you than someone with direct admissions experience reading applications, sitting in committee, and making the tough admissions decisions? Our expert team of IvyWise college admissions counselors is comprised entirely of former Deans and Directors of admission. We know how to help students maximize their admissions chances. Schedule an Initial Consultation to learn more.  

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Coalition Application, Common App
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