The college application process just got even more interesting…and potentially confusing. In recent years, college-bound students have grown increasingly reliant on the Common Application to manage and submit their college applications. With over 600 colleges accepting the Common App, it is by far the most commonly used college application portal. Today, it is a dominant player in the college application space, with no major competitors. Until now.

In September of 2015, a group of 80 colleges united to create a new application and portfolio platform for high school students. The Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success, which includes all of the Ivy League colleges and Stanford, will be introducing an alternative to the Common Application this summer.

Why, you ask? Well, in the fall of 2013, the Common Application re-launched its online application portal, causing technical difficulties that left both students and university admissions officials frustrated. There was growing sentiment that the Common Application was a monopoly, and did not leave college-bound students with enough options should something go wrong, as it did in 2013. Meanwhile, colleges were seeking greater flexibility to design their own applications, arguing that the primacy of Common App stifles innovation in this space. It was around this time that coalition deans started exploring the idea of a new online application system.

The table below will help you understand the basic differences between the venerable Common App and new-kid-on-the-block the Coalition Application.


It is far too early to take a call on the impact of the Coalition one way or another. While its essay
for the 2016-2017 application cycle have just been released, the actual application portal will not be live for at least another six weeks. I will not be recommending the Coalition Application to my clients applying to college in the fall of 2016, as I would rather wait see the results of its first application cycle. There has been very little discussion of the Coalition Application at the schools and colleges that I have visited recently, suggesting that they, too, are taking a wait and watch approach. Furthermore, since one of the Coalition’s most salient features is the virtual locker, which is supposed to be created over a four-year period, I don’t think that rising seniors would benefit much from it at this stage.

I also have concerns about the potential impact of the Coalition’s initiatives on the college application process as a whole as well as student well being. Going to the heart of the Coalition’s program, I fear that by extending the college application process into a four-year experience, the Coalition Application will actually drive up stress levels among students and parents. In ninth grade, students should be acclimating to high school and developing core academic skills, not beginning the college application process. I am concerned that the Coalition will only exacerbate the phenomenon known as “admissions creep,” whereby high school students appear to begin the college admissions process earlier and earlier each year.

Ultimately, competition is a good thing, and I sincerely hope that “consumers” (college-bound students) benefit from this new application platform. The Common Application’s dominance did indeed homogenize college applications, and there is certainly room for a different approach in this space. In coming years, I may counsel students to use a combination of the Common Application and the Coalition Application. Depending on the schools they are looking to apply to, some students may even be able to abandon the Common App altogether. But for now now I will be waiting and watching to see how the Coalition Application takes shape.