The Ivy Coach Daily

May 28, 2024

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

A student uses a scooter in front of a pillared building at MIT.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has its own application.

The Common Application and the The Coalition Application for College are the two most popular college admissions applications used by elite universities in the United States. As college admission grows increasingly competitive, many students seek to optimize their chances at every possible juncture. So how do the Common App. and the Coalition App. differ, and is there an admissions edge to using one or the other?

Which Is Better, the Common App or the Coalition App?

The Common App. interface is more recognizable for most colleges and universities, so we at Ivy Coach would only recommend those who cannot otherwise afford their application fees to use The Coalition Application. However, no matter which application is used, it should be used with restraint. Some students try to game the system by maxing out the number of schools applied to on The Common App., and then switching over to The Coalition App for the remainder. Applying to 20 schools on The Common App. and another 20 on The Coalition App spreads any student too thin to truly be able to give their time and attention to each application. Colleges can certainly tell when an applicant really cares about their specific culture, traditions, and history, and a cut-and-paste approach runs is a surefire way to secure a rejection.

Of course, no industry should have a monopoly, and that goes for college admissions, too. Many schools offer both applications, but some schools, such as Georgetown University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of California schools, only accept applications through their own unique portals. Still, The Common App. largely remains ubiquitous. College-bound students should be careful to not put all their eggs in one basket, as focusing all of one’s attention on The Common App. Personal Statement, for example, without checking whether the prospective school even takes The Common App, would be a waste of time. Often, the supplemental writing section of any application is where many students shine, and where the institution-specific knowledge that admission counselors love can be brought to the fore.

A Brief History of Both College Applications

History of The Common Application

The Common App. was founded in 1975 as the first cross-institutional college application process. While originally just offered by fifteen schools, by the mid 1990s, it acquired hundreds of schools, including some Ivy Leagues. The nonprofit was established with the goal of streamlining and standardizing the admissions process, but until it introduced its first digital application in 1998, its ability to do so was limited. All applications had to be filled out by hand, and each admissions cycle brought the stress of copying the same application details over and over again. The internet revolutionized everything, and by 2013, The Common App. had phased out paper applications entirely.

History of The Coalition App Application

But that’s not where this story ends. Students and administrators began reporting problems as The Common App. website was overwhelmed with traffic, and some worried that the interface was not accessible to disadvantaged students. In response to these criticisms, a consortium of 80 colleges and universities formed The Coalition Application in 2015. Created with the express purpose of servicing low-income communities, The Coalition App. has been touted as the future of college admissions. Its member numbers have only grown in recent years, leading some to wonder if the era of Common App. preeminence is over (spoiler alert: it’s not!).

Is The Coalition App the Future?

We at Ivy Coach applaud the mission of The Coalition App. to expand the accessibility of the college admissions landscape, but we do not buy into the false dichotomy implied by comparisons between the two services. The Common App. is not used exclusively by privileged students. In fact, Common App data suggests that about a third of users are low-income, and about a third are first generation college students. While it is true that The Coalition App. only accepts members who meet certain standards of socioeconomic accessibility and offers a wide variety of fee waivers, the limited scope of schools offered does not make it a viable alternative for many students.

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