Common App vs. Coalition App: Which One Should I Use to Apply for College?

You’ve probably heard about the Coalition Application and the Common Application, also known as the Common App. These two resources provide options to apply to and plan for college. But which one is right for your goals?

I’ve heard of both, but what are they? And which schools are on the Coalition App vs. Common App?

The Common Application, also referred to as the Common App, is a non-profit organization that connects student applicants with a variety of public and private colleges and universities throughout the U.S. (all 50 states) and 20 countries. Founded in 1975, the Common App is a resource for students to apply to college, look for financial aid assistance, and connect to resources for college counseling. The membership organization represents nearly 900 higher education institutions.

The Coalition for College was founded more recently, in 2015, and it represents more than 150 higher education institutions across the U.S. The Coalition is intended to improve the application process for high school students who come from historically underrepresented groups. It was designed to make the college application process more accessible with free counseling. Students are encouraged to prepare early, and Coalition assists them with planning for college and teaching them about the application process.

Both the Coalition and the Common App provide resources for high school students to apply for college and research financial aid options.

Coalition vs. Common App: Side-by-side Comparison Table

Here’s a quick run-down of how they compare. Or read on for more details.

Common AppCoalition App
When did it start?19752015
How many schools?Nearly 900Over 150
International schools too?Yes – in 20 countriesNo
Any schools require it?NoYes – University of Florida, University of Maryland, and University of Washington
Counseling resourcesYesYes
Financial aid resourcesYesYes
Application limit20No limit
Technical support24/7/365 email supportAlso chat and phone supportEmail support only
CostFree(only pay schools’ application fees)Free(only pay schools’ application fees)
Essays7 prompts650 word limit
Word limits vary by college
Essay submissionText box with limited formatting (bold, italic, underline)Can upload PDF or Word document
Students sitting at desk with books

What’s the process like?

With the Common Application, Students may apply to up to 20 colleges. As we’ve recommended, we think students should keep their college application list to 10 colleges at the max! So 20 colleges should be plenty. Students may see a preview of their application before they submit it.

The Coalition Application, on the other hand, does not have a college application limit, and shows the full application page, once it’s completed.

What if I need help?

The Common App is known to have quick technical support, providing answers within the same day, and sometimes even the same hour of asking a question, through email, phone, and chat. They now support 24/7/365 email support. The Coalition Application may take longer to respond, as they do not offer phone or live chat support.

Here’s a quick run-down of how they compare. Or read on for more details.

Student outside with book

Do I have to pay a fee?

Both the Common App and the Coalition Application are free to use. If a college requires an application fee, then students will need to pay the application fee to the school when they submit their college applications. If you’d like to apply for an application fee waiver (often available for low-income students), we recommend contacting the college’s financial aid office for more information.

Student writing in notebook

Do I need to write an essay?

Yes. Each application contains an essay prompt asking students to describe an experience or story that shaped who they are. The Common App offers seven essay prompts (you choose one), and essays have a word limit of 650 words. 

The Coalition Application essay prompts are very similar, but may require different word limits, depending on what the college set as its preference.

Another item to note about the essay process is that the Common App requires students to enter their essay into a text box with minimal customization. Bold, italic, and underline font are the formatting options.

The Coalition Applications provides a bit more customization for submitting an essay. Students can upload a PDF or Word document, allowing for more creativity before uploading the document and submitting the essay.

Student on phone looking up Coalition Application vs. Common App

Are both applications required for me to apply to colleges?

You never have to submit applications to the same school on BOTH application platforms. Also, schools generally provide multiple methods for applying, and the Common App and Coalition App are simply two of the more popular options. 

You usually do not HAVE to apply with one or the other. That said, there are two general exceptions to this. First, three schools DO require all prospective students to apply using the Coalition Application: the University of Florida, University of Maryland, and University of Washington. And second, there are some schools that do not accept Common App submissions, such as Penn State, University of Pittsburgh, Clemson, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Elon.

Student with computer and notebook

Which one should I use?

This is entirely up to you. If you’re planning on attending one of the three state universities listed above (Florida, Maryland, or Washington), you’ll need to apply with the Coalition Application.

If you’re planning on attending college outside of the U.S., then the Common App might be a better option since it partners with schools in 20 countries, as well as in all 50 states in the U.S.

Keep in mind, if you’re applying to schools that use both application systems, we’ve seen some college admissions coaches recommend using the Common App. Although your choice of platform shouldn’t influence your chances of getting accepted, it seems that admissions officers might still personally prefer what they know best: the longer-running Common App. 

If you’re still unsure, talk to your guidance counselor to get a second opinion on what your counselor thinks might be best for you.

Student on laptop

Wish you could apply for scholarships using a single application, too?

Well, you can. Going Merry is your one-stop shop for all things related to scholarships. (Our founders were originally inspired by what the Common App did for college applications.)

What does that mean? You can find and apply for some scholarships on our website. You can request letters of recommendation, upload documents, and save essays. We even pre-fill your forms with your profile information. Sign up for free today.

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Kelly Lamano

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