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While both the well-established Common Application and its 2-year old rival the Coalition enable students to apply to college, there are countless variations between the two platforms. And for students (as well as parents and school counselors) who are familiar with the characteristics and structure of the Common App, be prepared that many of the features you know and love (and probably take for granted) on the Common App are regrettably absent from the Coalition. But fear not! Our 10 top tips below highlight our favorite suggestions for students applying to college with the Coalition Application.

1. Start with the Profile

Once you’ve created your Coalition account at mycoalition.org, you’re probably wondering (a) where exactly is the application? and (b) how do I send it to my Coalition schools? Do you see the little Profile header at the top of your screen? That’s where your Coalition journey begins. By clicking on the Recommended Sections links in the left-hand menu (which includes personal information, family information, SAT/ACT, etc.) you’ll be prompted to complete multiple questions that will then be carried over to your school-specific applications. More detailed strategies for handling certain sections of the profile can be found in tips 4, 5, and 6 below.

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2. How to Add Colleges to Your Coalition List

Back at the top of the main Coalition screen, click on the Colleges link to search for and add colleges to your Coalition school list. If a particular college name doesn’t appear, they don’t accept the Coalition. If it does appear, select it by clicking the Add To List box. Nearly 140 colleges have indicated they will accept the Coalition this year, including a handful of schools (namely the Universities of Florida, Maryland, Washington and Virginia Tech) that are “Coalition exclusive” and only accept applications via the Coalition website.

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3. How to View a PDF of Your Application

At any time, even if your profile isn’t 100% complete, you can click on the Generate Profile PDF button in the upper left-hand corner of the page to view a copy of your profile. The PDF can only be accessed in your locker, which can be found by clicking on the Locker link at the top of the screen, and selecting Media from the dropdown menu.

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4. Get a Copy of Your Transcript to Answer the 9th-11th Grade Coursework Questions

With a copy of your transcript by your side, it’s far easier to list the courses you’ve taken and the grades you earned from your freshman through junior years. While colleges primarily focus on just your core academic classes (English, math, science, history/social science, and foreign language), you are instructed to include all  of the courses you’ve taken in high school, including gym, art, music, and other electives, as well as any courses from 7th or 8th grade that earned you high school credit. And regardless of how your courses are listed or abbreviated on your transcript (e.g. W Geo or AP Eng Lang) it’s helpful to admissions officers if you write out the full name of each course, just so there’s no confusion (e.g. World Geography or AP English Language)!

Bonus tip: Not all colleges require this portion of the application. To determine which schools do, look at the top of the 9th-11th Grade Coursework screen for additional information about the colleges on your list.

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5. How to Complete the Activities/Experience Section of the Coalition

You have three opportunities to provide details for each of the eight clubs/activities you can list on your Coalition application.

  • Activity/Experience Name: You have 64 characters to write out the name of your club or activity.
  • Description: Although the instructions state “please provide a one-sentence description of your experience,” you actually have 255 characters to list interesting details and/or unique insights into why each activity was particularly meaningful for you.
  • Individual Distinctions: If you need additional room, you can use this space (also up to 255 characters) to share special titles, awards, or honors you received within that club/organization. It’s okay to leave this section blank, too, as the final PDF of the application will simply skip to the next club if no text is entered.

Bonus tip: For the question about your time commitment, you don’t need to list a high and low number of hours if your level of involvement has remained steady. If you include “5 hours per week on the high end” and leave the “low end” section blank, the final PDF simply shows “5 hours per week.”

6. Your Profile Must be 100% Complete Before Accessing School-Specific Applications

In what is probably the most frustrating shortcoming of the Coalition, students cannot begin a specific college application until all required questions on the profile have been answered. If you attempt to start a new application and your profile isn’t finished, you will receive the message, “Please complete the highlighted sections in order to proceed with your application.” How can you easily check the status of your profile? On the profile page, look for the handy % completed bar to view your progress and determine how much of your profile remains unfinished!

7. How to Complete a Specific College Application Using the Coalition

Once your profile is complete and you’ve clicked on the Start Application button on the Colleges screen, you will be shown exactly which components of your profile will be included when you submit that school’s application (such as contact information, high school information, academic interests, etc.) . After selecting your application type (first year, international, or transfer), you will then need to work your way through the remaining application pages step by step. For most colleges, the order in which you must complete the application is as follows (but please note that not all colleges require all of the six sections listed below):

  • Program (e.g. B.S. in computer science)
  • Term (e.g. fall 2019/early action)
  • Official Documents (more on this in tip number 8 below)
  • Application Questions (more on this in tip number 9 below)
  • Uploads
  • Payment

The dark blue box shows you which section of the application you should work on next.

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8. How to Request Letters of Recommendation/Transcripts in the Coalition

If your high school uses Naviance to submit letters of recommendation, transcripts, and school reports, you should NOT request any of these official documents through the Coalition. Instead, check the box that indicates you will send these necessary forms separately.

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However, if your school counselor instructs you to complete this portion of the application, you will instead click on the blue Request box, enter the email address of your school counselor or teacher, and they will receive electronic instructions for how to upload the applicable documents.

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9. Thoroughly Review All Questions in the Application, Optional or Not

Questions that must be answered in the Application Questions portion of the Coalition are marked with a red asterisk. But you may find that many of the so-called optional questions actually contain extremely relevant information that would be useful to the admissions officers reading your application, such as your intended start term or your preferred major. Don’t complete the bare minimum of the application and consider yourself done. Take the time to read each question carefully to ensure you’re providing all relevant information.

Bonus tip: In another unfortunate misstep, the Coalition does not allow students to skip through the college application questions in order to find possible essay prompts. You will only be allowed to progress one page at a time, completing each required question, before (eventually) being taken to the essay section of the application.

10. How to Attach Your Essay to the Coalition Application

If colleges want to read your personal statement/essay (because many Coalition schools do not require any writing or essay component), they will instruct you to either upload your essay to the application or they will provide you with a text box in which to enter your essay. For schools in the former category, you can either upload your essay directly from your computer, or you can use the Coalition locker feature by clicking on the Locker link at the top of the screen and selecting Media from the dropdown menu. Click on the blue Upload box to add a PDF or Word document to your locker.

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Then, in the Application Questions section of a particular college, you can attach the appropriate essay by clicking on the Attach From Your Locker Or Device button.

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Bonus tip: For colleges that require a personal statement, look carefully for a recommended or required word count. Some colleges indicate a specific word limit while others allow students to follow the general guidelines put forth by the Coalition (500-550 words). Additionally, some colleges ask students to answer one of the five Coalition essay prompts, while others (e.g. Dartmouth College, Michigan State, and Wesleyan University) actually ask students to answer one of the Common Application prompts! Either way, the main essay submitted via the Coalition will mirror that of any strong personal statement in that it shares a meaningful story with admissions officers and provides insights into the applicant’s character.

For more tips on applying to college using either the Coalition or Common Application, be sure to follow us on Facebook and listen to our weekly podcast, Getting In: A College Coach Conversation, available online or wherever you download your podcasts.

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Written by Elyse Krantz
Elyse Krantz is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Elyse received her BA in linguistics from Dartmouth College and her MA from Teachers College, Columbia University. Prior to joining College Coach, Elyse worked as an admissions officer at Barnard College and Bennington College.