It may be hard to imagine now, but before the ubiquity of the computer, applying to college was a much more time-consuming and tedious chore where applicants and counselors had to write/type answers to the same questions on every application; there wasn’t even a cut and paste feature.
In 1975, a handful of private institutions banded together and created a common application form that could be photocopied and used to apply to any of the schools within the group. At the time, the goal was primarily aimed at looking beyond surface-level measures and taking a holistic approach to understanding students’ passions and goals. The process remained limited to private schools (though a growing number of them joined in) until 2001 when the first six public schools started using the Common Application.
The Rise of the Common Application
Chances are if you’ve only heard of one of the applications mentioned in this article, it’s the “Common App.” Its growth has been steady, and some of that is due to economics. As The Chronicle puts it, “The more colleges that accept the form, the more useful it is for students. The more students use it, and the more colleges keep joining, the more a given institution may reap the rewards of association.”
Today, the Common Application organization boasts memberships of more than 1,000 colleges and universities.
The application has a common pool of questions (including essay prompts) that allow applicants to showcase their talents to a range of institutions with a single cycle of applying. The Common Application also offers a streamlined recommender system that allows those writing recommendation letters to easily submit their materials in one convenient system.
The Coalition for College
Similarly named, the “Coalition Application” is much newer than the Common Application. It was founded in 2016 and has a different, more specific focus.
The organization’s actual name is the Coalition for College, and their mission focuses on connecting underrepresented students to institutions that best fit their “academic, financial, and social needs.”
The pool of institutions involved with the Coalition for College is smaller (only around 150), but these schools are selected with attention to the features that make them a good fit for underrepresented students including generous financial aid packages and overall tuition costs designed to allow students to leave debt-free.
Which Should You Use?
Ultimately, you should use the application that best fits your goals of getting into your target schools. While more schools take the Common Application, many schools take both the Coalition for College application and the Common Application.
You should start by making your list of schools and then seeing what applications are accepted at each. Choosing the application process that is accepted by the most schools on your list is time efficient and convenient.
If a school takes both the Common Application and the Coalition for College application, you will need to decide which one to use as you cannot send in two separate applications to the same school.
Another consideration is how the goals of the organizations behind the applications fit with your own. The Coalition for College application has some features that are specifically designed for underrepresented students to showcase their unique experiences and perspectives. If you are from an underrepresented group, the Coalition application may give you more room to showcase yourself.