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Common vs. Coalition: Making Sense of College Applications


Two words that send numerous highschool seniors, and their parents, into a panicked frenzy: college applications. While the process of researching, touring, and narrowing down hundreds of schools into a prioritized list or “top 10” can seem daunting enough, stress tends to spike once more when students realize they may have more than one application to fill out or an essay to write before the process is complete. By collecting as much information beforehand as possible, this fear can be avoided and the application process itself can be simplified into 3 easy steps.

1. Identify Which Applications the Schools on Your List Use

Conveniently, most colleges these days use an application called the CommonApp. This application requires that the student fill out one application and write one core essay that will then be sent off to every college that accepts the CommonApp. The same is true for the UC and CSU applications, which only need to be filled out once but can be sent to multiple campuses. Occasionally, some schools have independent applications or use what is called the Coalition Application. All of these applications ask similar questions (regarding personal information, educational experience, and activities), so having this information handy can make the entering of data less tedious. Identifying which and how many types of applications will need to be submitted is the first step in the process. 

2. Identify What Essays/Personal Questions Need to Be Written

As mentioned, the CommonApp and Coalition App require one “core essay” with a 650 word maximum. The UC application requires 4 short answer essays with a 350 word maximum each. Independent applications may also have essay requirements. On top of these core essays, some schools require some other “personal questions” or writing samples be included in the application, to better get to know the student. Knowing how many full or short essays will need to be written can help the student plan ahead and meet writing deadlines, while not feeling overwhelmed. 

3. Stay Organized!

Keeping all of the information above in an organized chart, spreadsheet, or list is one of the most important steps in the entire process. By knowing when applications are due, students can work backwards and plan out the various steps of writing a college essay and filling out an application. An organized list can record any notes, deadlines, or special considerations. The student can then submit applications as they go or all at once! I commonly recommend that students have all of their applications and essays completed and submitted before Thanksgiving, so they can truly enjoy their holidays. 

While these three steps are simple to follow, they can definitely be time consuming, so it is imperative that students allow themselves enough time to feel good about what they are submitting. In order to have applications submitted by November of senior year, I recommend starting the application process in the summer after junior year. Ready to see where an AJ expert can start offering targeted support? Call a Director today!


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