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Weekly College Column

College Application Choices

March, 17, 2022

The Common Application is the big kahuna in the college application world. Their numbers have soared in the last decade, more than doubling to over 900 colleges and universities that accept their application nationally and internationally.

There is another player in the field – The Coalition Application.

Both platforms:

  • offer students a way to apply to colleges and track their applications
  • are free to use
  • have students pay the fees for each of the colleges where they’re submitting applications.
  • require an essay
  •  What are the differences between the two applications: 

  • The single biggest difference is the size of the membership: Common App (CA), which was created in 1975, has 980 members and Coalition(C), created in 2015, has 150 members.
  • CA permits students to rollover their information from one year to the next. C encourages students to maintain a “locker” with items such as essays they’ve written for school, their resumes, research, artwork, videos and projects that they anticipate will be part of their college application.
  • Guidance counselors and teachers are more comfortable with the CA and are learning about the mechanics of the Coalition application.
  • The Coalition was envisioned as one way to increase diversity in the applicant pool. Its mission is to make it easier for students from underrepresented backgrounds to apply to college. It emphasizes affordability.  Currently, Coalition only partners with institutions that offer generous financial aid and makes a valiant effort to help students graduate with little to no debt. As an example, rather than just listing their activities,  students can select “Family Responsibilities” —which allows working-class families to describe the commitments that may prevent them from participating in more traditional extracurriculars and clubs.
  • The Coalition offers students a “collaborative space” where they can invite teachers, counselors, recommenders, and family members to review their applications.
  • Since the CA has been around for nearly 50 years, they’ve tweaked and fine-tuned their technical support, so it is typically responsive. However, with over 3 million users each year, things can get bottlenecked in the week or so before major deadlines. The safest bet is always to try and submit your applications two or more weeks prior to the deadline, in case there are challenges or tech issues.
  • One of the biggest differences you’ll find is in the Activity List. CA provides a max of 10 activities which students rank in their importance but they are limited to a description of 150 characters for each one. The Coalition offers eight spots with 255 characters for describing your responsibilities and accomplishments.
  • In the course listings section of the applications, Coalition applicants are required to list all grades and courses throughout high school whereas CA applicants need only list their senior courses with no grades – transcripts must be sent.

    How to decide which platform to use:

Students should research their own college lists to see which ones accept neither, one or both of the platforms:

Common App:;


Bierer is an independent college consultant based in Charlotte. Send questions to: and visit 



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