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Common vs. Coalition vs. Universal College Application: Which Should You Complete?


It’s time for students to confront this question, not all that simple, and we’re going to help them understand what’s ahead in order to provide some direction.

When students are ready to begin applying to one or more of the over 3,000 4-year colleges in the U.S., they’ll face completion of one or more of the following four alternatives: a college’s own application (more of these than of any other type); the Common Application, second in terms of acceptance; the Coalition Application, third in terms of acceptance; and the Universal Application. Note that some schools accept their own application and/or one of more of the three others (Common, Coalition, and Universal). Further, some schools don’t have their own applications, and so will accept one, two, and, in a few cases, any of the three alternative applications.

Second behind only schools’ own applications in terms of acceptance is the Common Application, used by 773 colleges (almost six times more than use the Coalition Application). In addition to its widespread acceptance, it’s the only application that’s accepted by some schools. Over 100 of the colleges that accept the Coalition Application also accept the Common Application, giving the Common Application the broadest possible coverage.


The Coalition Application is accepted by 132 colleges, and while relatively new, its acceptance is growing. Further, it’s actually required by three colleges, the Universities of Florida, Maryland, and Washington.

The Universal Application is accepted by only 23 colleges,19 of which also accept the Common Application. So if one of the student’s goals is – as it should be – to complete as few applications as possible to yield the broadest coverage, the Universal Application is a poor choice. We recommending using it only if it’s the only application accepted by a school or is easier to complete than is a school’s own application.

While they differ in some respects, the data needed to complete the Common, Coalition, and Universal Applications are basically similar. Each of those three applications has one or more writing/essay sections, though the individual colleges have varying writing requirements. For example, some colleges require that one of more of the main application’s writing sections be completed and submitted, while others don’t; and some colleges have their own writing requirements as part of the application process. Additional information on main application writing/essay requirements for each of the three alternative applications can be found here: Common Application, Coalition Application, and Universal Application.

Students currently exploring colleges would do well to find out now which applications are accepted by the schools in which they’re interested, then get busy now with the process of filling out those applications, particularly if one of more of the three alternative applications is accepted by those colleges.

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