Comparing the Common & Coalition Applications

If you’re a student applying for college, a parent helping your child through the process, or you work with prospective college students, you’re probably familiar with the Common and Coalition Applications, but you might be wondering which is right for you or your student. To help you choose, let’s go over the similarities and differences between the Common and Coalition Applications.

 Common Application

The product of a nonprofit organization founded in 1975 with the goal of making the college admission process more accessible and equitable, the “Common App” (as it’s often called) streamlines the college application process. It allows prospective undergraduates to apply to more than 900 colleges and universities using a single application and accompanying materials.

Schools in all 50 United States, the District of Columbia, China, Japan, Canada, and several European countries all allow applicants to submit their materials through the Common App. This includes over 250 public universities, 12 historically black colleges and universities, and over 400 colleges and universities that don’t even require an application fee.

How It Works

The Common App process is fairly simple. Applicants fill out application materials online, upload letters of recommendation, essays, school forms such as transcripts, and other materials, then submit them to as many schools as they want. This same information goes to all the different schools, though individual schools may request further materials, such as supplemental essays explaining why a student wishes to attend that particular institution. The Common App site also allows applicants to track their application status every step of the way.

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How Many Schools Accept It

More than 900 schools and educational institutions use the Common App.

 Coalition Application

The Coalition Application is an application system established by the Coalition for College (formerly known as the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success, or CAAS). Since its founding in 2015, this nonprofit organization has sought to provide a holistic application that specifically helps disadvantaged students get into college and succeed while they’re there.

 As of 2019, 150 institutions use the Coalition Application. This includes public and private institutions, all of which are accredited, nonprofit, four-year degree-granting educational institutions. To use the Coalition App, an institution must meet the Coalition for College’s standards for access and student success.

 The Coalition Application provides application services for incoming students and transfer students. They also provide free online college-planning tools that help students learn about, prepare for, and apply to college.

 But the Coalition Application doesn’t just make it easier to apply to college. It also aims to help students succeed once they get there. The Coalition for College has strict eligibility requirements for its member schools. In order to qualify for using the Coalition Application, schools must:

  •     Provide significant support systems for under-resourced, low-income, and/or first-generation college students
  •     Demonstrate a commitment to student graduation
  •     Offer responsible student financial aid

 So, in addition to streamlining the college application process, the Coalition App also functions as a built-in screening process for its member schools. This can help disadvantaged students decide where to apply, just as much as it helps them through the actual application process.

 How It Works

Beginning as early as 9th grade, students create portfolios about themselves. Unlike traditional college application processes, the Coalition Portfolio is designed to create a holistic of the student. It allows students to provide a more inclusive look into who they are, what their goals are, and how their unique experiences qualify them to succeed in college.

 The Coalition Portfolio is designed to level the playing field for students who have faced unique challenges, allowing them to paint a picture of who they are and showcase their unique skills in ways traditional application formats may not allow them to do.

 Side-by-Side Comparison

The Common App and the Coalition App may be direct competitors, both aimed at similar (but not identical) groups of students applying for college. That doesn’t mean they’re interchangeable.


The Coalition Application is less widely used, newer, and less well-known. On the other hand, the Common App is a household name for many people applying to or preparing to apply for college.

Part of this certainly has to do with longevity. The Common App has been around since 1975, whereas the Coalition Application was founded in 2015. 


At a high level, the two organizations have similar goals: to make the college admission process more accessible and equitable. Both are a way for first-year and transfer students to apply to college. Both are a way to apply to more than one school at a time. Both streamline the application process. But, each application goes about achieving that goal with very different approaches.

The Coalition Application aims to make college more accessible for disadvantaged students specifically by using a more “holistic” application format. While Common App simply streamlines the college admission process, the Coalition for College has a screening process that institutions must qualify for in order to use the Coalition Application. 

Which Is Right For You?

While the Common App and Coalition Application have similar goals, they ultimately provide very different services.

If you need help finding colleges to apply to and you’re looking for places where you can truly succeed – especially if you’re a disadvantaged student with a limited support system – Coalition Application may be a great choice for you.

If you already know where you want to apply and are just looking for a way to make the process easier, Common App is great. It can also help you find free places to apply, meaning it can be a good resource for students who don’t have a big budget for application fees. Identifying application fee-free schools can be an excellent way to find backup or safety schools. And even if it doesn’t have every feature the Coalition App has, using the Common App certainly beats filling out separate complicated applications for every school you’re applying to.

HelloCollege Counselor Tip: Once students have their school lists, they should find out which institutions are on which application. They can then strategize which services they’d like to employ. For example, a student applying to 8 schools that are all on Coalition might benefit more from using only the Coalition App, even if they are not otherwise a Coalition-type student. Two common Coalition App schools among our students last year were the University of Washington and Virginia Tech, both of which use the Coalition but not Common App.

If you are interested in learning more about the college admissions process, or about college life in general, check out more of our blogs and resources here at HelloCollege. We believe that preparing for university shouldn’t be scary, and we are here to help guide you or your student through the process every step of the way.

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The Hello College Team

HelloCollege CEO Andrea Emmons has spent the last 15 years guiding students and families across the country on their path to college. Andrea knows the profound impact proactive college planning has on the lives of students and is passionate about mentoring families through the process.
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About Our Founder

Kevin Krebs

Inspired by his parents, Kevin’s journey from a first-gen, diverse, low-income background to Northwestern University shaped him. After experiencing challenges, including student loan debt, he founded HelloCollege and has spent the last 25 years helping students successfully navigate college admissions.

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