Navigating the Coalition Application

The Coalition Application is an alternative to the Common Application most frequently used by colleges. The Application is used by over 90 colleges, including Stanford and all Ivy League schools.

The Coalition Application was created by the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success. According to their website, the member colleges must “provide substantial support to lower–resourced and underrepresented students, offer responsible student financial aid support, and demonstrate a commitment to student graduation.”

What’s the difference?

What’s new with the Coalition Application is that students in any grade in high school may start adding material to their “lockers.” A “locker” is a sort of digital portfolio that students can add to and alter throughout their high school career, as well as share with teachers and mentors when getting ready to apply to college. 

For the Common Application, applying students must create a separate account at in order to upload their art portfolios or video performances. The Coalition Application, with its built in “locker,” simplifies this process by keeping student work in one place.



The inspiration behind the student “locker” is to encourage students to begin their college applications as early as ninth grade. If students are striving to build their best possible portfolios, their quality of work should, in theory at least, improve. The “locker” also gives counselors and mentors the opportunity to create an ongoing discussion with the student about their long term goals.

This online portfolio is used by college admissions officers as a third vital component of the Application, making the Coalition Application more robust and less dependent on individual essays and standardized test scores.

(Of course, the locker is also heavily criticised for encouraging ninth graders to worry about college applications instead of their high school experience. In fact, the initial criticism from consellors and consultants was so intense that the Coalition actually postponed their initial launch from January 2016 to April 2016.) 

The Coalition Application allows for more variation from its member institutions, meaning that colleges can tailor the Application process to their specific program. While this could make the college application process more time consuming, it also allows more space for the applicant to demonstrate their abilities.  

Which application should I use?

Though over 90 colleges accept the Coalition Application, only three accept it exclusively. Those three institutions are University of Florida, University of Washington, and University of Maryland.

All other Coalition member institutions state that they show no preference for students using the Coalition Application over the Common Application. However, because of the “locker” tool, it may be beneficial for freshman and sophomores to begin their Coalition Applications, adding their best work to their digital portfolios now.


If students have a significant amount of work to share in their “lockers,” the Coalition Application is a great tool to use as college admissions officers use this tool to gain better insight into the student’s growth and ongoing learning.

However, because the Coalition Application is still new, it may be best for high school juniors and seniors to stick with the Common Application. The “locker” is really the most innovative portion of the Coalition Application, so if applicants aren’t going to take full advantage of that tool, they would do best to continue with the Common Application.

That being said, for any student that has collected samples of their best work throughout their high school career, the Coalition Application is the better option. Again, admissions departments are able to determine more about the individual applicant’s scholastic history through their digital “locker.”

2017/2018 essay prompts

The Coalition Application has brought back an essay topic that the Common Application dismissed in 2013, which is the “essay of your choice” topic. This considerably broadens the range students have when considering the essay portion of their Application.


Here is a list of the essay topics as posted on the Coalition site:

  • Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
  • 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.
  • 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?
  • 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)?
  • Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.

How to get started

The first step to getting started with the Coalition Application is to go to the website and sign up for an account. Students, teachers, counselors, and mentors are all able to sign up for an account, where they can work collaboratively on an applicant’s digital portfolio.

Following that, students can then upload their best essays, artwork, music or video performances, and projects to their “lockers.” Students are able to determine which items college admissions officers are able to see, so there is no harm in adding a wide variety of projects and then paring down before the Application is submitted. The student can choose which projects are shared with their mentors as well, meaning that the student can be selective about which mentor provides feedback on any given piece.

Teachers, counselors, and mentors can then give feedback and make comments on the portfolio, though they are not able to make any changes to the files themselves. Mentors must create their own accounts with the Coalition in order to collaborate with students.


From there, students can go through the list of Coalition schools and designate colleges of interest. This can really help the student visualize their goals and push them to create more and even better work. When students click on the icon for their schools of interest, they will receive information on anything unique to the individual school’s Application process. Certain schools may require a separate essay aside from the standard, previously mentioned essays.

When the student has filled their “locker,” and they have discussed their portfolio with a mentor, they’re ready to apply. By clicking “apply now” under any of their designated colleges of interest, they will begin their Application. Following the step-by-step prompts is fairly straight-forward and should be simple once the applicant has put in all the hard work necessary for their portfolio and their Application essays.

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