A Comparison of the Most Popular College Application Platforms

by
CollegeXpress Student Writer, Johns Hopkins University

College applications have transitioned from pen and paper to online forms, making them easier to fill out and less likely to get lost. But many students find themselves confused about which application platform to use. To help you find the application of your dreams, here’s a closer look at the Common, Coalition, and Cappex Applications.

Related: Welcome to the Uncommon App

General application tips

First things first: never apply to one school using multiple applications. This is a great way to confuse admission officers and show that you’re not good at following directions.

Visit the admission section of the website for every college you’re applying to. Schools can only be applied to through an application platform they’re affiliated with, so don’t punch a hole in your computer if you can’t find a school using a certain application.

Filling out multiple applications is repetitive and frustrating, so if all your colleges are available on one application, don’t apply using another just for kicks. This is sometimes unavoidable, though—I ended up with all but two schools using the Common Application, so I had to fill out the Coalition Application and the UC application as well.

Related: Top 10 College Admission Mistakes

The Common Application

The Common Application has its name for a reason: over 750 schools accept the Common Application across 20 different countries. The application platform is free, but most colleges and universities still charge an application fee, though this can usually be waived. The Common Application was created specifically to allow students the ease of only having to fill out one main application that can be used for many schools.

Related: Moments and Memories: How to Write Your Best Common Application Essay

The Common Application is easy to use. There’s advice for each part of the application located right on their web page, and there are video tutorials for each section. For applicants who check their phone every hour, on the hour, there’s also a companion mobile app (Common App onTrack) available for iOS and Android. The app lets you track your application status, set reminders, and organize recommenders.

Organized students who enjoy flexibility in how they fill out an application will find the setup of the Common Application is perfect for them. Keeping track of your application progress is easy; each section or subsection gets checked off once it’s complete.

Even though you’re organized, though, it doesn’t mean your colleges are. There’s a specific area for each school’s writing supplement that the Common Application uses to label what’s required of that school. Only some colleges choose to put the essays there, while others spread out essays among other questions, which can be frustrating for some applicants.

The Common Application also has a financial aid section meant to help you understand how to afford college. This can connect you to financial aid information that is specific to each college you’re applying to. There’s a lot of information, so students looking for any form of aid should definitely check it out.

Related: Mastering the Common Application: Tips and Tricks to Stand Out

The Coalition Application

The Coalition Application was created in 2015 and has partnered with over 140 schools that have committed to making college affordable for all students. One feature that sets the Coalition Application apart is the applicant’s ability to upload all sorts of videos, pictures, and documents that represent important moments in their high school career to a free, unlimited space called their Locker.

Related: ZeeMee: The Future of College Applications?

Students who want to start thinking about college as soon as they start high school are able to contribute to their application throughout all four years and avoid forgetting noteworthy milestones. The Locker feature is most valuable to those who actually upload their high school accomplishments. For students who start the Coalition Application their senior year, trying to make up for lost time with the Locker could end up creating more stress and a greater workload.

While the Common Application allows you to invite up to three advisors to review and comment on your application, the Coalition Application appears to have no limit and encourages students to make use of their Locker as a way to communicate with teachers and mentors. The advising capabilities of the Coalition Application are perfect for students using a college counselor to walk them through their application process. However, there are plenty of students who can’t afford a private counselor or choose not to use one, so this feature of the Coalition Application may not be valuable to them.

Related: Why You Need to Be Friends With Your Guidance Counselor

The Coalition Application integrates common information filled out in the profile into each school’s application. The profile is 70% of the application to Coalition schools, so students can get ahead of the game by working on their profile early. However, starting the Coalition Application early poses a risk, because it only partners with 140 schools. Your college choices will undoubtedly change as you discover new interests throughout high school. So by starting the Coalition Application early, you’re either committing to looking at only Coalition member colleges or using multiple application platforms.

Unlike the Common Application, the Coalition Application gives an exact percentage of progress you’ve made on the profile section and each school’s application. You can jump around on what you fill out in the profile section, but for each school you have to fill out certain things first before moving on to other sections. Applicants who get overwhelmed by seeing every single part of an application at once can take advantage of how the Coalition Application methodically guides you through the process.

Unlike the Common Application, which focuses its help on the individual sections and steps of an application, the Coalition has MyCoalition, which has a few articles on financial aid, the college search, and the application process.

Again, the Coalition Application platform is free, but individual universities still charge application fees. However, the Coalition stands by affordability by allowing students to apply for fee waivers, providing information on financial aid, and only partnering with schools committed to need-based aid. For students relying on need-based aid, knowing that all Coalition schools will help with costs can be a huge stress reliever.

Related: Colleges With No Undergraduate Application Fee

The Coalition Application also has a college search option that lets students add member and non-member colleges to their lists. Non-member colleges only take students to their website and show their location. Member colleges will take students to a web page with information about the school and links to their website, show application deadlines, and allow students to start their applications. If students already have a college list and are trying to narrow it down, this college search tool will work. Students who are just starting their college search and would like equal information about all colleges shouldn’t use the Coalition Application for their college search tool.

The Cappex Application

Unlike the Common and Coalition Applications, Cappex has a college search tool that gives the same amount of information about schools regardless of if they’re member institutions. While the Common and Coalition Applications notify schools that you’re planning on applying, Cappex takes this a step further by giving you recruitment messages from colleges that are interested in you.

Students interested in applying to one of the Cappex member colleges can apply directly from the website. Information from your Cappex account transfers to the application, so you avoid having to reenter information. The actual filling out of the application requires information to be entered in a certain order, and the main application isn’t separate from each college application. As each school is added, new sections are created for any additional information needed. Students who love having everything filled out in one place in an organized manner will find their dream application in Cappex.

Related: How I Was Able to Apply to 7 Colleges, Save Money, and Enjoy My Senior Year

Unlike the Common and Coalition Applications, the Cappex Application is completely free; none of the member schools have application fees. However, the Cappex Application only partners with 125 schools, and these aren’t selective institutions.

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