The 5 New Essay Prompts for
the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success
Application (coming soon?)

(And a little rant)

What Coalition, you ask?

If you are like most of us, you either have never heard of this Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success application, or you are still waiting to learn how to use it.

Or you are wondering if it even matters at this point.

Here’s what I know:

This Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success is an alternative way to apply to college, a new application system very similar to The Common Application that most private colleges and many universities use (about 500+, including the ives).

Reportedly, about 90 colleges and universities have now signed up to allow applicants to their schools to use this new Coalition application as well. (Mostly same schools that already use the Common App.)

(Find links to posts on how to answer each of the 5 new essay prompts for the Coalition for Access at bottom of this post!)

The idea is that students have another option when applying to their schools.

Why do they need it if they cover pretty much the same schools?
Good question!

In a nutshell, in recent years, the Common Application had tech glitches and royally messed up a lot of people, including thousands of students applying for college and those who helped them with this process (parents, college admissions counselors, teachers, etc.)

As you can imagine, people were pissed!

So a group of higher education experts (supposedly about 60 college admissions counselors) teamed up to create this alternative application system. Competition is good, right?

(Just to confuse you more, there already is another alternative, called The Universal Application, and you can use that, but it doesn’t include many schools—about 50. Learn about the difference.)

This new Coalition application was supposed to be available to students applying to college this fall (entering fall 2017 and transfers), but it stalled out and the developers kept pushing back the launch date (the web site says April…).

Currently, word is it’s supposed to be available by July (which is crazy late in the game for an untested newbie.)

Also, about 30 of the participating schools have just pulled out and are now not using it this first year because of these delay issues.

Put it this way, there’s been a fundamental confidence fumble.

I’m not a college admissions counselor—I pretty much stick to the essays—but if it were me, or one of my kids, I wouldn’t touch this new Coalition application this year.

Just stick to The Common Application as long it has the schools you want to apply to. Or check out the Universal Application, for more options.

Wait until this new Coalition works out the kinks.

(If you plan to apply to the University of Washington, the University of Maryland at College Park, and/or the University of Florida for 2016-17, however, you will need to use this Coalition application, since these three schools opted to use it as their exclusive application.)


coalition for access

The New Essay Prompts for
the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success


If you do end up wanting to apply to any of your target schools using the new Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success, they just announced their five new essay prompts.

Good news on that front: You can write an essay about anything you want!

And they leave it up to the schools that use their application to decide what essays they require.

The Coalition folks recommend a word count around 300-500 (no longer than 550!) Read the longer advice re word count here.

The Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success did provide optional prompts to help get you going on ideas, and one is called “Topic of Choice.” (See list of 5 prompts at bottom of this post.)

Two of the prompts are almost identical to Common App prompts (#1 and #3.).

Two are new and okay (#2 and #4).

The fifth is “Topic of Choice.” (#5)

I will write a follow-up post with specific ideas and advice on each of these new Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success essays in coming weeks.

Bottom line: Just write a personal statement essay on any topic you like, stick to around 500 to 600 words tops, and you will be in good shape.

If you are applying to The Common App—JUST USE THAT ESSAY!

Yes, it’s that simple!


coalition for access

Excuse Me While I Vent About
this Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success


These essay prompts seem to be the first thing this new Coalition for Access, Success and Affordability got right that I know about.

Up to now, they only added confusion to an already bewildering college application process.

(And in an apparent attempt to make the college admissions game more fair, have made it less fair and crazier.)

First, what’s with the six-word name (with meaningless euphemisms) that’s impossible to remember?

To me, that’s the first red flag that the admissions pundits who put this together take themselves too seriously.

(Or what happens when you have 60+- clever professionals all from different institutions working on it. Hello scary group dynamics.)

Their initial intentions at least sounded noble.

They claimed to want to make this Coalition for Access, Success and Affordability easier and better for underprivileged and underrepresented students. (Check out this from their values statement: “We believe that early engagement supports under-resourced students during the college preparation process.”)

Sounds good.

But how do they plan to reach these “under-resourced” students, most of whom have little or no access to any outside support to even let them know this is an option?

This last minute release for 2016-17 is the opposite of “early engagement” for these students, and only would provide an advantage for privileged kids in the know.


coalition for access


They also floated this idea that students could start loading up a “virtual” student locker with examples of their most impressive student work starting freshman year in high school. (Check out how these lockers will work.)

This idea concerns me. Especially since it has been lauded as a way to “level the playing field.”

So now students can dump their past homework assignments in this virtual locker for colleges admissions officers to review, and that somehow is going to help them decide who to admit or not?

(College admissions counselors: Do you really want to have to read that stuff? Will it truly help you get a better picture of these students? Isn’t that what their grades were for?)

Wouldn’t these lockers just heighten the college admissions frenzy, and push it back even earlier to unsuspecting freshmen students who won’t know what hit them?

Beware teachers and administrators! Can you imagine the energy (alerting all tiger moms and helicopter parents!) that would go into loading those lockers with spectacular reports, essays, tests, projects, etc.

Just think: You could do extra work all through high school on top of your regular school demands to beef up your lockers and really bedazzle the college of your dreams!

Again, guess who is left in the dust?

Yes, those “under-resourced” students (often with no tigers or helicopters in sight) who will be the last to hear about those lockers and other mysterious resources yet to be revealed.

I just returned from giving essay workshops to some of the most promising college-bound, first-generation juniors in the Rio Grande Valley and not one of the 160 kids or their teachers had heard about this Coalition application.

As far as I can tell, the only people with any clue about any of this so far are private college admissions counselors who do their best to stay up to date on all these insider changes and help mainly well-resourced students.

These lockers most likely will help students who have involved parents and private counselors who can counsel them to capture their most impressive work, and have it poised to share with their target schools.

Over time, it’s likely this new Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success will get its act together and provide a reliable and improved application alternative to The Common App.

They certainly have the clout and capital to succeed, and the potential to figure out a campaign to help underprivileged students understand how to take advantage of their snazzy digital resources, including the locker.

If that happens, I guess that’s a good thing.

I would still be nervous students (and parents) will now try to game these various application systems, and try to guess if one somehow gives them an edge at certain schools.

Does Harvard like students who use this Coalition app over those who use the Common App for some ridiculous reason?

Or will a school like a student better whose application shares some glowing academic project stashed in their locker over one who has none to offer? To stay in the game, will The Common App feel the need to create more enterprising ways students can enhance their applications?

Competition is good, right?

From what I’ve seen, it seems to be the source of the college admissions mania.


coalition for access

What Students Need to Know Now

If you are a high school junior or a college student planning to transfer, you don’t need to worry about all the politics or controversies swirling around this new Coalition application.

Just understand that it might, might, be another way to apply to the schools you want to attend this year.

And the only way I know that you can find out more about it, or when it will be available to you, or what it has to offer, is to keep manually checking the web site for updates. (In my opinion, probably not worth the effort this year. )

If you do end up using it, however, don’t sweat the essay because if you already have a Common App essay personal statement, you already have your essay done for this Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success.

Your main job is to figure out a unique topic to write about yourself and learn writing strategies and techniques to craft an effective personal statement, which you can use for The Common App or The Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success.

Here are some of my best posts to get you started on that process:

Get ideas on how to write your Common App essay and use that for the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success essay!

Good luck!

Here are the essay prompts for the new Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success application (released late April 2016:

Essay Prompts

The prompts for the 2016-17 application year are: