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How to Write the Coalition App Essays (2018-2019): The Impressive Guide

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One organization that you may come across while applying to colleges is the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success. The Coalition is a group of over 140 colleges and universities that are dedicated to helping students gain access to higher education.

Similar to the Common App, the Coalition offers an online college application that is accepted by its member colleges. As a part of the application, you must write a personal essay.

The Coalition App Essay Fundamentals

The Coalition recommends that you stay between 500-550 words. There are five different topics you may choose from:

Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.

Describe a time when you made a meaningful contribution to others in which the greater good was your focus. Discuss the challenges and rewards of making your contribution.

Has there been a time when you’ve had a long-cherished or accepted belief challenged? How did you respond? How did the challenge affect your beliefs?

What is the hardest part of being a teenager now? What’s the best part? What advice would you give a younger sibling or friend (assuming they would listen to you)?

Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.

There are a variety of ways you could answer these essays, but how do you choose the best topic for your application?

Brainstorming and Selecting a Topic

Before selecting a topic, sit down at your computer or with a sheet of paper to brainstorm all possible ideas for the five essay options. While there might be one topic that seems like it is calling out to you, first ask yourself:

Does this topic…

  • …reveal new information about me that is not included in other parts of my application?
  • …paint me in a positive light and/or make me appealing as a potential new student?
  • …engage my audience by telling a story that is unique to me?

This last bullet point is particularly important.

Remember that college admissions committees are reading thousands of essay responses.

You want to make sure that your essay stands out and could have only been written by you and not, for example, any person who has ever played a team sport.

  • This doesn’t mean, however, that college admissions committees are expecting you to have participated in 17 extracurricular activities while holding a full-time restaurant job and starting your own Etsy store.
  • Instead, find a topic that holds personal significance and reveals more about you as a person.
  • Even a “typical” high school experience can become a powerful essay if presented through your own eyes.

Just remember, the topic you choose needs to expand on your character, values, and themes.

The topic serves as a vehicle to extrapolate you; the topic itself isn’t the focus of the essay.

Personal Narrative: The Character Development Edition

Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.

In this prompt, there are two different approaches you could take to addressing the central theme of character.

  • You could write about an experience in which your character was shaped or an experience that demonstrated your character.

Talking about your character can be highly personal and make for a great essay if approached properly.

  • When writing your essay, be sure to use specific description and emotional language.
  • These strategies will help you to connect with your reader by creating a story they can visualize.

In your essay, follow up by explicitly stating how your character was shaped or demonstrated.

You don’t want to make your readers have to guess the point of your story. This process will also come across as reflective in your writing, a quality that many colleges look for in their students.

For this essay, consider writing about a time when you…

  • …had to make a difficult choice.
  • …were inspired by someone and made the decision to try to follow their example.
  • …were disappointed by someone and made the decision not to follow their example.
  • …were the agent of positive change or progress.

While addressing this topic, it’s easy to accidentally become a passive character. Don’t forget that this essay is about you.

  • Your essay shouldn’t simply describe an event that happened to you.
  • You need to explain how the event demonstrated your character or changed it.
  • Make sure at least 40% of your essay comprises of writing that expands upon your character.

Challenge yourself to expand your vocabulary for this essay.

It’s worthwhile to research “words describing character” in order to select precise terms to convey your intended meaning. This will strengthen the overall development of your ideas and narrative presentation.

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Contributing to the “Greater Good”

Describe a time when you made a meaningful contribution to others in which the greater good was your focus. Discuss the challenges and rewards of making your contribution.

In responding to this prompt, there are many different types of contributions you could offer.

Have you ever:

  • …fundraised for a good cause?
  • …volunteered with an organization or for an event?
  • …dedicated time and effort to helping someone succeed?
  • …mentored a younger person?
  • …stood up to a bully?
  • …provided some kind of valuable access to a vulnerable person?

These options are just a few possibilities for addressing this essay.

  • In your response, first describe the situation in which you contributed to “the greater good.”
  • You will want to provide enough context that your readers will be able to understand what actions you were taking and the goodwill behind those actions.
  • With that said, do not spend over 25% of your essay writing about background details, situation, or event. You do not want to accidentally make the event the focus of the essay.

Then, you should describe both the rewards and challenges.

  • If you simply discuss an organization and the rewards you gained from contributing, you’re not fully addressing the question.
  • You must also address the sacrifice you were making and/or challenges you had to overcome along the way.

This essay is not about simply making positive contributions but instead about making positive choices that put your own wants or needs after those of the “greater good.”

This is also another essay in which evoking emotional language is an important strategy to implement.

In this case, this language will aid you in describing the psychological reasoning behind your actions and the positive consequences that resulted.

  • Focus on why you made the choice, what you sacrificed, and why you did it.

Wrestling With Beliefs

Has there been a time when you’ve had a long-cherished or accepted belief challenged? How did you respond? How did the challenge affect your beliefs?

Many of us hold tight to beliefs we have had since we were children. In this essay, you are tasked with writing about a time in which one of these beliefs was challenged.

After you have identified the occurrence, think about your reaction to the challenge and whether anything changed for you.

  • Don’t spend over 15% of the essay on the event that led to your belief getting challenged. Just get right to the challenge.
  • Afterward, you will want to describe both your reaction and justification for why you did or did not change your belief.

This prompt ties in with the idea of identity and your willingness to hold fast to a belief or your open-mindedness to change.

There is no right answer, but don’t come across as stubborn or naïve.

In planning your essay, you might consider writing about a time in which one of your beliefs about one of the following topics was challenged:

  • Religious (or non-religious) perspective
  • Scientific knowledge
  • Controversial public issue
  • Your relationship with or assumption about a person
  • Your memory of an event

A word of caution in this essay: Be careful not to alienate your audience.

  • Your intention is not to reinforce your beliefs or convince your reader.
  • Rather, you are being reflective about the experience of being challenged and your reaction to it.
  • In other words, don’t turn this essay into an argument.

Before selecting this prompt, also think about the quality of your reaction and your response to your challenger.

  • If you were challenged about a belief and dismissed your challenger because “they were stupid and didn’t know what they were talking about,” then you’re missing the point of the prompt.

Admissions committees want to see that you are willing to analyze your own beliefs – a task that you will often be asked to do as a college student.

However, analyzing your beliefs doesn’t always mean changing them, and that’s okay.

In your response, it’s your job to reveal that process for your reader.

Sincerely, A Teenager: Giving Advice to the Next Generation

What is the hardest part of being a teenager now? What’s the best part? What advice would you give a younger sibling or friend (assuming they would listen to you)?

There are three interwoven questions that need to be addressed in this essay topic.

In the first part of your response, you should address both the rewards and obstacles of being a teenager in 2018. Then, you should describe the advice you would give to a person younger than you.

  • When describing the rewards and obstacles of teenage life, be specific and choose topics that are weighty.
  • Admissions officers are probably already aware that many teens don’t like to wake up early to go to school.

Complaining in your essay will not do you any favors (especially since there are early classes in college too).

  • Instead, you might discuss a challenge, such as achieving a work-home-school-extracurricular balance or being taken seriously in a public debate about an important issue.

Take the same strategy to heart when talking about the rewards of being a teenager.

  • Instead of discussing how nice it is to not have to pay bills, you might instead write about what an advantage it is to feel comfortable using technology of all kinds.

The last part of this response is outlining what advice you would give to a younger peer if you knew that they would take it.

  • Challenge yourself to not only write about what not to do but also what you believe young people should do.
  • This adds a positive tone to your essay. You aren’t being prohibitive; you’re encouraging others.

As appropriate, link the do/do not action to a positive outcome.

  • What are you hoping your imaginary mentee to get out of your advice?
  • For example, if you recommend carrying around a water bottle every day, explain why.

Does establishing healthy habits start early in high school? You don’t need to go into great detail but enough for your readers to be able to follow the inspiration for your advice.

What to Think About Before Choosing Your Own Topic 

First, we at Transizion strongly recommend that you stay away from choosing your own topic. The same thing goes for writing the related free-topic Common App option.

  • The “free choice” topic offered by the Coalition can be both a blessing and a dangerous temptation. It’s important to think carefully before choosing this option.
  • The universities that make up the Coalition have carefully selected the four other topics outlined. They clearly align with the schools’ ideals.

These colleges know better than anyone else what they would like to see in their future student body and hope that these essay questions will elicit important information in making admissions decisions.

  • If you do not have any outstanding life experience that you feel absolutely compelled to tell the admissions committee about, you probably do not want to choose this option.
  • If you do, it might seem like you were unable to come up with a response for any of the provided topics.
  • This could be detrimental to your application.

However, maybe you do have a life experience that you were unable to highlight anywhere else in your application.

Only choose this option if you believe that writing about this experience will be a more effective and powerful testament to who you are and why you’d make a great student at the college(s) to which you are applying.

“Free Choice” essays could be on topics such as:

  • Explaining any significant (and potentially problematic) gaps in your academic or extracurricular history.
  • Your journey to learn sign language through self-study because you wanted to be able to communicate with deaf patrons at your job.

It’s important to note that even the above examples could probably fit to address the pre-written prompts.

If you opt for the last essay choice, double check that your topic doesn’t already fit one of the other prompts.

Final Considerations Before Submitting Your Essay

Before you submit your essay, you should always proofread and get a second opinion.

Having a “fresh set of eyes” read your essay ensures that you are writing clearly and will help you determine whether there are gaps in your essay.

While your writing might make perfect sense to you, it might not to someone outside of the experience you write about.

Tell a story, use emotional language, and make sure the essay is always about you (and not the event that prompted your reflection).

Last, try not to choose the last prompt.