When it comes to a new application season you face applying to a university of your dreams in the United States, it’s essential to note that The Common App is not the only shared college application heading to the forefront.
In September of 2015, more than 80 universities came together to form the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success (CAAS). Their goals were to improve access to college education, revamp the application process, and to offer an alternative to the Common Application.
The Coalition Application is a newer and a little smaller application platform, through which students can apply to over 140 US colleges, both state and private. Like the Common App, students can submit their applications to multiple colleges at once. Since its start, the Coalition for College has promoted broader, more inclusive, and more affordable access to higher education through its more personalized application process.
Specifically, students can use the Coalition Application to:
- Enter their basic personal data, information about the school classes, name and address, school grades and GPA, results of the tests etc.
- Store relevant information in the Coalition Application "Locker" - an online storage component - that allows students to keep all their application materials and all the needed info in one place to apply to one school. All files remain private unless students decide to share them with mentors of their choosing, and files can be renamed or purged as needed.
For many selective colleges, the applicant’s “demonstrated interest” becomes a “tip factor” in the admissions decision. While showing real interest in a college will not gain admittance for an unqualified applicant, it can make a difference for the student who’s right on the cusp of acceptance. A recent study found that many colleges ranked the importance of demonstrated interest right behind the applicant’s essay and ahead of recommendation letters.
The Coalition Application offers five essay prompts, listed on its website, and requires one main essay with a 550-word limit. Colleges have the option to add more school-specific prompts, which can be found through the college list.
What are the Coalition Application Essay Prompts?
The Coalition Application 2019-2020 essay prompts are as follows:
- 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.
Before going deeper into details about each of the prompts we'll provide the essential recommendations on how to plan your writing, what to be aware of and what to stick to when writing to come up with a winning essay of yours!
Essential Recommendations to Work on The Prompts
1. Choose the topic that appeals to you.
There is no use to pick something that might sound “burning” if it is not interesting or critical for you. Even if someone considers that writing a Coalition essay on the loud theme like abortions or the death penalty would be good for creating an ideal candidate picture, it won’t work if this theme does not touch your soul, forgive this metaphor.
2. Present yourself as a unique person.
There are many school graduates with high marks, volunteers and great sportsmen of the world championship level and even winners. You are not supposed to hide such details, however, don’t rely on them only. Besides, this information is already known to the college, they would not need reading to it once more. Concentrate on some specific things which differentiate you and tell a story, do not just list facts about your achievements.
3. Use literary techniques.
An essay is not a bureaucratic financial report, it is a story about you and your life with its challenges and beliefs. There is a place for secondary details if they add more life to your story and make it catchy. Tell about your feelings and reflections. Refer to metaphors, allegories, and symbols.
4. Don’t try to pretend.
Even if you think that the college representatives want to read certain things in an essay, the attempt will not be worth your efforts. They have already read thousands of such texts to recognize any show off immediately. Instead of this, think of the things which describe you more than your standard information about school achievements, social life and maybe work does. The essay gives you the priceless opportunity to show yourself from a different angle, which is not covered by the other documents. Let you be yourself, however, be polite.
5. Proofread your essay.
It must be perfect grammatically. First, create a draft and hide it for a couple of days. You need this time to clear your mind and eye. When you return to your text, you will find lots of issues to correct. There will be typos, tense and case issues, phrases which to change or delete completely. Most likely you will want to change some paragraphs and the structure itself because some of the arguments or subjects will be irrelevant. Repeat this in several days again.
6. Find your testing readers.
When the draft of an essay satisfies you, the time to judge it by other people will come. Ask some people you trust to read it, you may refer to your parents, former teachers or coaches, older brothers or sisters. They can comment and suggest some ideas because they have the advantage of the standers-by. With their help, you can also improve your work.
How to write the Coalition Application essay
In this section, we’ll look at the Coalition Application essay prompts in more detail and look at what the questions are really asking of students.
Question 1: Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
This is, essentially, the "who are you?" prompt. Colleges are asking students to show their character, to describe and analyze a moment that shaped their personality and their values.
And we should stress – students need to show, not tell. They need to pick a moment from their life that demonstrates who they are in a compelling and thought-provoking way.
It is a general theme which gives you great freedom of choice. Your experience had to include different incidents, you may choose both positive and negative examples if you think they had an impact on you. Choose one to present properly, because you have only about 400 words. Avoid general phrases and be specific instead, tell about things that influenced your life.
It’s best to avoid cliches here. If they can, students should steer clear of making generalizations like "I’ve always had strong family values" or "I pride myself on being a good leader" if they don’t have the examples to back it up.
Let’s take the leadership examples. Let’s say a student has captained their school hockey team. Was there ever a time when the team lost morale, or experienced a defeat that was a blow to their confidence? What did they do to help their fellow team mates? How does this demonstrate their leadership prowess? And what does it say about their wider character?
This prompt requires students to have a lot of self-awareness about who they are, and where they’ve come from. Perhaps more than any other prompt, it requires deep self-reflection.
Question 2: 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.
It might be helpful to refer to this as the "values in action" prompt. Sure, a student has an impressive resume of extracurricular activities and community service – but can they demonstrate that they’ve made a real and lasting impact in something they’ve done?
Again, this essay is only as good as the story that a student chooses to tell. And a good story needs a powerful narrative, high stakes and relevant examples.
This is a more specific topic. The committee would like to know what things are the greater good for you. Describe the case which was essential for you. Good ideas can be possessed from your experience of the non-school activity, maybe volunteering. However, even if you have all the reasons to be proud of your deeds, remain humble.
Stories about the "greater good" don’t mean that students need to become shining beacons of political activism, or boast about abolishing hunger in their local area. Smaller acts of kindness, generosity or just managing a difficult situation against the odds will be enough to get an admissions officer’s attention.
For example, a student could have volunteered at a residential care home. They don’t need to have radically transformed the entire running of the organization – but a story of making a small difference to the lives of one of the residents they met will seem genuine and individual.
Or maybe your student organized a series of events to raise money for a charity at school. As well as a dedication to a good cause, this demonstrates entrepreneurial spirit and organization skills. But again, small, specific examples will go a long way.
Question 3: 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?
Students might think they are being asked about a time they completely changed their mind about something. Again, this doesn’t need to be the story of a complete conversion from one point of view to another.
This is, in essence, another character/values prompt, and is asking students to talk about how they reacted when those values were challenged. They don’t have to come out of this story a radically different person, it’s just a prompt that is asking students to showcase a time when they had to engage critically with the world around them.
This prompt wants you to compose a character study of yourself. The admissions committee wants to learn from it what are your personal beliefs, and if you are open-minded to listen to accept other opinions. You have an opportunity to express your thoughts about social or political phenomena, though it is not obligatory if you don’t want to touch these themes. Besides, the members of the committee are also people with their own beliefs, and some of them might not support your decisions. So, consider this.
It could be a student having their political or moral viewpoint challenged. Maybe their family upbringing gave them a certain perspective of the world, and there was a moment where this perspective was radically altered. Or maybe something they saw on the news, or read in a book, or even studied at school, provoked a fundamental shift in their political beliefs. Students shouldn’t be frightened to tackle difficult political issues in this prompt if they want to. It might be that students have particular views on abortion rights, civil liberties or international trade. US colleges love independent, engaged thinkers!
Tip: The Common App has also been known to ask students questions about a time when their beliefs were challenged. It’s something that US colleges are really interested in.
Question 4: 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)?
This is possibly the most deceptive essay prompt. It may seem like it’s asking students to be deeply introspective, and share all their teenage hopes and fears. But read the question again. Specifically, look at the first sentence. What is the hardest part of being a teenager now?
This is also a question that is inviting students to think about bigger questions about the world around them. What kind of world are they growing up in? What kind of world do they foresee on the horizon?
This offers you to express your ideas on three different subjects in fact. You might get by with two of them. Of course, you can cover all three if you wish. There is one catch in this prompt – it is concentrated on the “now”. So, you are encouraged to talk about cutting-edge technologies, social changes and their impact on the teen’s daily life. You are supposed to write about yourself, remember, so, tell about the things which matter most for you as a teenager. If you are not a teenager – for example, you want to apply for the second higher education – you still can choose this prompt and tell what you think about the modern teenagers and their life challenges.
This prompt presents a great opportunity for students to talk about the political, economic and social issues of their time. Maybe your student thinks teenagers are fearful about climate change, or about having their political voice heard. Maybe they’re worried about the future job market they’ll graduate into. You may have teenagers at your school who are worried about the impact of social media and what it means for wider society. As with Prompt 3, it’s a chance for students to critically engage with the modern world.
The beauty of this prompt is it there’s no right answer. What’s more, students will have very different takes on this, depending on where in the world they live. It’s probably why the Coalition has seen fit to set this question – it allows colleges to see the diversity of potential applicants, especially if they’re international students.
Question 5: Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.
The open question might seem like the most tempting. Students have a wide range of options here.
But it might not be the best option for everyone. For some, the open essay prompt is a risk. This prompt is perhaps best suited to students who have a strong opinion on viewpoint on something, or who feel like they have a really interesting story they want to tell, free of any specific prompt.
This is the possibility to choose your prompt and share your thoughts about anything. Still, the main recommendation is the same: you should write about what you know and what you feel deeply. Make sure to structure the text properly, so that the readers would easily follow your ideas and your logic.
A student tackling Prompt 5 could, theoretically, tackle a topic or issue we’ve explored in our discussion of the previous four essay prompts. Or, alternatively, they could opt for something completely different.
The sheer range of options is such that we couldn’t possibly hope to cover them all here, but here are a few things that students answering Prompt 5 could think about:
- Talk about a time when they have experienced severe failure or setback, how they dealt with it, or what they learned.
- Tackle a famous quote, be it philosophical, historical, scientific or literary. Explain why they agree/disagree with it.
- Take a position on a political or economic argument, and where they stand in relation to it.
- Write about a piece of culture or literature that means a lot to them. Why? How did it change their worldview?
No matter the prompt you select, be sure to address all parts of the prompt/questions asked. Be creative in your topic selection and make sure your response showcases what makes You!