Common App vs. Coalition: What’s the Difference?

May 9, 2024

common app vs coalition, coalition app vs common app

Rising seniors who will be applying to college this fall are almost sure to face the question, “Common App vs. Coalition: what’s the difference?”

However, this rivalry isn’t quite on par with Coke vs. Pepsi, Ford vs. Chevy, or Nike vs. Reebok. Rather, the case of the Common App vs. the Coalition better resembles one of those start-up business tales that we all love, where a feisty newcomer tries to dethrone the industry goliath. You know—the storyline where a bunch of geniuses toil away in a garage, pursuing an innovation that will bring some mighty corporate giant to its knees. Except in this version, the feisty upstart (the Coalition App) never quite took off, despite having the backing of many prominent colleges and universities.

Common App vs. Coalition?

The battle between the Common App vs. Coalition has cooled in recent years, but we still field many questions on the ins and outs of these two applications. In the interest of providing some clarity, let’s start by taking a quick look at what each application is all about. Then, we’ll delve into the differences, addressing the most frequent questions that we receive from clients on the subject.

The Common App in a nutshell

In 1975, a small grouping of private colleges, possessing both overlapping admissions requirements and applicant pools, forged an agreement to develop a common application form that could be Xeroxed and submitted to all schools within the cohort. By the mid-1990s, the movement began to spread to more and more institutions and soon the Common Application migrated online, started to include public schools, and switched from being volunteer-run to an incorporated nonprofit. Growth has continued throughout the 21st century, as the number of participating schools has more than doubled in the past decade. Currently, there are over 1,000 member institutions across all 50 states and 20 countries.

The original intention of the Common App remains its intention still today. It is a tool that helps streamline the process of applying to multiple schools. Accordingly, it allows students to enter their demographics, educational history, test score data, activities, and personal statement just one time, saving applicants valuable time and headaches.

The Coalition App in a nutshell

Current high schoolers who are in the preliminary phases of their college search process may encounter The Coalition for College (previously The Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success, a clunky name that sounded like either A) the world’s lamest team of superheroes, or B) a defunct Soviet ministry). In actuality, “The Coalition” is a collection of colleges and universities that all meet a series of criteria demonstrating that they graduate a high percentage of their students within six years and have a strong track record of meeting applicants’ financial needs.

In order to promote increased access, the Coalition App was designed to engage students in the college process earlier in their high school careers. It also aimed to make the application more holistic and organic than the Common App. Students were also given a digital “locker” in which they could enclose writing samples or multimedia artifacts that represent their unique passions or talents, and were encouraged to connect with mentors of all varieties (counselors, community members, admissions counselors) to seek out advice as early as 9th grade.

However, The Coalition Application has undergone some big changes in recent years. For starters, the previously mentioned digital “locker” was retired. Additionally, the Coalition App is now powered by Scoir, a college and career planning platform that many high schools already use to help their students stay engaged and organized. Through Scoir, you can take college and career discovery quizzes, compare schools, do research, and apply to colleges. Currently, 142 member schools accept The Coalition application.

Does the Common App vs. Coalition give an admissions advantage?

There is no admissions edge either way. If colleges accept both the Common App and Coalition App, they have no preference between application methods.

Is there a price difference?

Nope—both are “free” platforms—but of course you still have to pay the individual fees to each college or university to which you apply.

Is there a difference in the number of colleges I can apply to?

Yes. The Common App limits students to 20 colleges, while The Coalition App allows students to submit as many applications as they want. However, we typically do not advise applying to more than 2o colleges, so it is unlikely that the vast majority of students will run into an issue on this front.

Do any schools require the Coalition App for first-year students?

Not anymore. In past years, several colleges required students to apply using The Coalition Application, including the University of Maryland, the University of Florida, and the University of Washington. The University of Washington was the last hold-out but officially joined the Common App for the 2023-24 admissions cycle. At this time, all Coalition schools also accept the Common App.

The only exception is if you are a transfer student. Currently, Columbia University only accepts the Coalition App for transfer students.

Are the essay prompts different?

Technically yes, but they are extremely similar. You can check out The Coalition essay prompts here, although it is important to note that not every Coalition school requires an essay. The Common App essay prompts are staying the same for the 2024-25 cycle. Note that both offer a “topic of your choice” option, meaning that you can use the personal statement for each application interchangeably.

In addition, the personal statement for the Coalition and Common Apps have the same word count maximum—650 words. Moreover, both suggest that students write about 500-650 words.

How many students use the Common App vs. Coalition?

The 2016-17 admissions cycle was the debut of the Coalition App and it failed to make a major splash. At Yale, a paltry 1% of the applicant pool, just 317 total students, selected the Coalition App over the more traditional Common App. At Emory University, fewer than 1,000 of the 23,694 total students who applied submitted their applications via the Coalition Application. Moreover, data from the Coalition App’s 2019 Annual Report reveals that just under 300,000 students used the platform to submit about 350k college applications. Since then, published data has been sparse.

Compare those numbers to 2023’s Common App statistics: approximately 1.2 million students applied to college using the Common App, and submitted over 7 million applications.

Common App vs. Coalition: Which is more convenient?

We personally find the interface of the Common App easier to use at this time. Having been online for almost three decades, they’ve successfully worked out many of the kinks and continue to make improvements and updates each year.

Who does the Coalition App make sense for?

If your list is comprised exclusively of schools that accept the Coalition App and you feel that its layout or features work to your benefit, then by all means—give the Coalition App a try. Other students who may want to check out The Coalition are students whose high schools currently use Scoir, as it may streamline the application process. The final group of students who may be interested in the Coalition App are those who do not have a great deal of college guidance and would like to research colleges that are more likely to meet their financial needs while providing a supportive academic environment.

On the other hand, if you plan on applying to ten schools and only two or three are Coalition members, then filling out both applications isn’t likely going to be a great use of your precious time.

College Transitions’ Bottom Line: Common App vs. Coalition

You’ll want to use whichever application allows you to apply to as many of your colleges as possible in one shot. For rising seniors who are gearing up for the 2024-25 admissions cycle, the simplest and best choice will likely be to use the Common Application. With its 1,000+ member schools, user-friendly platform, and many integration partners—including Parchment and Naviance—the Common App will likely remain the go-to choice for years to come.

Looking for more college application resources: You might want to check out the following: