In October 2015, the new Coalition Application was first rolled out at a conference of the National Association for College Counselors in San Diego. Over the last five years, it has been the subject of rumor and speculation. Students still wonder how the application process has changed as a result. Will it be easier than the Common App, or are there still too many bugs to work out? Will colleges regard them more or less favorably if they decide to use the Coalition App instead? Which one is better?
First Things First
As with most aspects of the highly individualized college application process, there is no one right answer. But we can offer some information to guide you in your decision about whether or not to use the new Coalition Application.
Why Was the Coalition App Created?
In 2013, a revamp of the Common Application led to a plethora of unexpected problems. These issues included print preview problems, formatting difficulties when copying and pasting from Microsoft Word, and missing green checks. These issues were so prevalent that many schools had to extend their Early Decision and Early Action deadlines.
In the aftermath of this event, college admissions counselors began to think about alternatives to the Common App. Their goal was to create a more holistic picture of a student over the course of his/her high school years. Additionally, they hoped to make the college application process more affordable and accessible to a wider variety of students. To that end, a group of college admissions counselors formed the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success. Their vision was to streamline the application process, especially for low-income students who may not have access to needed resources.
The result of their work is the Coalition Application, which was launched that summer. This platform offers a “locker” which students can use to submit examples of their achievements, starting in the ninth grade. In addition, it offers several essay prompts (similar to the Common App). The stated aim of these tools is to enable simple, free transmission of electronic application materials. Transcripts, letters of recommendation, and other documents can be easily added.
The apparent ease and accessibility of the Coalition Application promises to make it a great tool for future college applicants. But the platform is still a newcomer. As such, it may need more patience from students who depend on it to make an already stressful process more seamless.
The Common Application has nearly 900 member schools, ensuring that most, if not all, the schools on your list will accept it as part of your application. In contrast, CAAS still only has just over 150 members. All members of CAAS will also accept the Common App, save a few exceptions. As of late 2020, these 12 schools will only accept the Coalition App. Before submitting your essay, you should make sure that the colleges to which you are applying are all members of CAAS. Otherwise, the Common App may be a better choice.
Potential Technology Challenges
It’s also important to remember that there are bound to be glitches in any new technological platform, as evidenced by the many issues encountered by applicants who used the new version of the Common App in 2013. In the future, college applications via this platform may be simple and seamless, and it may become the preferred choice for most colleges. But presently we can only infer based on the last five years without major incident.
Keep in Mind
Although administrators of the Coalition App are likely to be responsive in troubleshooting problems, keep in mind that the college application process is already highly stressful and emotional. Consider using the Common App instead if you are uncomfortable with trying out new technology for this process.
If you do decide to use the Coalition App, be patient if you encounter unforeseen glitches and technical problems and ask for help if needed. Although such problems can be stressful, they will not affect your chances of getting into your top schools.
The Essays… Still Matter
No matter which application you choose, taking the time to craft a quality essay that responds effectively to the essay prompts will greatly increase your chances of being viewed favorably by college admissions counselors. The essay prompts for both applications are similar in that they ask you to reflect on beliefs, challenges, transitions, or accomplishments. In each of them, the first prompt is written so that any student can answer effectively, regardless of his/her past experiences. The remaining prompts are more specific to particular situations and may be more difficult to answer. Out of the seven possible prompts, the Common App allows students to select one essay with no prior instructions. Similarly, the Coalition App includes an open-ended prompt that invites you to submit an essay on a topic of your choice. For more advice on how to approach your essay strategy, I recommend Empowerly’s Guide to Essays.
Though still new, it’s clear that the CAAS application has great potential to revolutionize the college application process. Students who are currently entering 9th or 10th grade can benefit by interacting with the platform and adding items to their locker. At the very least, this process is sure to help them early on to articulate their accomplishments and goals for the future.
For students who are currently in the trenches of securing college admission and making decisions, the tried-and-true may be more comforting for now.