Blog 🍎 School 27th July 2023

How to Write the Coalition Application Essay 2023-24

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Zahra Onsori University Content Writer
The questions for this year’s Coalition Application essay have been released. We discuss how students should approach each of the 2023-24 essay prompts.

When it comes to applying to a university in the United States, it’s important to note that the Common App isn’t the only game in town.

The Coalition Application is a newer (and smaller) application platform, through which students can apply to over 100 US colleges, both state and private. Like the Common App, students can submit their applications to multiple colleges at once.

Specifically, students can use the Coalition Application to:

  • Submit their basic information, like name and address, school grades and GPA and relevant test scores.
  • Store relevant information in the Coalition Application ‘Locker’ that allows students to keep all their application materials in one place.
  • Keep supporting audio and visual files that might help their application to stand out from the crowd.

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Like the Common App, the Coalition Application asks students to submit an application essay, that is then sent to all of their prospective colleges.

And, also like the Common App, students must respond to one of several essay prompts that are designed to give universities a comprehensive picture of who they are, what drives them, and their ambitions for university and beyond.

Recently, Coalition for College released the essay prompts for this year’s Coalition Application Essay.


The Coalition Application might be a more suitable application platform for students interested in arts and creative subjects. The ability to submit audio/visual material means that a US college applicant can really showcase their creative portfolio. 

What are the Coalition Application Essay Prompts? 

For the 2023-24 application cycle, Coalition for College are asking applicants to answer one of the following six questions. 

  • Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it. 
  • What interests or excites you? How does it shape who you are now or who you might become in the future?
  • Has there been a time when an idea or belief of yours was questioned? How did you respond? What did you learn?
  • What success have you achieved or obstacle have you faced? What advice would you give a sibling or friend going through a similar experience?
  • Describe a time when you had a positive impact on others. What were the challenges? What were the rewards?
  • Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.

Each of the prompts above is suitably open-ended, and designed to give students the space and the flexibility to fully showcase their positive personal and academic qualities. 

But the freedom and flexibility of six such open prompts (particularly no.6!) also bring with them certain drawbacks. Students might come to their guidance sessions with you and ask how they’re supposed to brainstorm and plan a response to such open-ended questions. 

Some of the prompts listed above will make students think (wrongly) that they need to have lived the life of an action hero, or be a tech entrepreneur before the age of 15. Nothing could be further from the truth! 

In the next section, we’ll look at some of the techniques for planning the Coalition Application essay before writing it. 

How to help students plan a Coalition Application essay

Before students set to work writing their Coalition Application essay, it’s worth holding a one-to-one session to help them strategise. There are two key planks of a Coalition Application essay strategy that it’s worth working through with students. 

Logistical planning 

By this, we mean making sure that every student who is applying through the Coalition Application has a full overview of what the individual requirements are for each university they’re applying to. 

For example, some colleges will only require students to submit a single essay through the Coalition Application. Meanwhile, others may also require students to submit additional supplemental essays about why they want to study at a particular institution. 

Supplemental essays are a different beast to the main Coalition Application essay and will require a subtly different approach. So if students need to submit these as well, this logistical planning is an important first step. 

Creative planning 

Make no mistake – the Coalition Application requires students to be extremely creative. 

They will need to use all their critical and lateral thinking to ensure that they draft the best possible response to whichever essay prompt they opt for. The natural first move for most students will be to just pick a prompt, and go from there. 

But just going straight to answering the prompt is arguably a great tactic but bad strategy. A better approach is for students to brainstorm and strategise their personal and academic qualities first, and choose their essay prompt from there. 


Because fundamentally, all six essay prompts are asking students to explore variations on the same theme. Let’s look at a few examples of what we mean. 

A student’s character 

Fundamentally, US universities want to know about who a student is, their values, how they cope in the face of adversity, how they respond to a challenge to their sense of themselves. When you strip away all the window dressing, the Coalition Application essay prompts are essentially asking – ‘who are you?’ 

A student’s worldview 

Each of the six prompts will ask a student to explain something about their worldview, or how they interact with the world around them. Nearly all of the Coalition essay prompts ask students to expand on a political, social, or moral viewpoint, or tell a story that relates to it. 

A student’s background 

We’ve discussed before how US universities are huge fans of the origin story. The six Coalition essay prompts will encourage students to open up about their past, their family history or their cultural roots.  

Are your students stuck? Try these quick exercises

As we mentioned above, a student might look at these criteria and think that they’ve got nothing interesting to say. So here are a couple of quick exercises (let’s call them the Brainstorming Prompts) you can give students to help them plan their Coalition Essay. 

  • Go home and pick out a family heirloom, or object that you hold dear. What’s the story behind it? Why does it matter to you? What thoughts, feelings or memories does it evoke? 
  • Think about a trip you took, or a city/town/country you’ve visited. What was the reason for your trip? Did you learn anything from your visit? Who did you travel with? And, perhaps most importantly, how did it affect your worldview? 
  • Is there a member of your family, or a relative that you admire? Why? What’s their story? 
  • Is there a recent historical event that has affected you? Where were you when it happened? How did you feel? How did it affect your worldview? 
  • Have you taken part in an extracurricular activity that has had an impact on you? How has it affected your perception of yourself? Has it helped to shape your ambition? 

These are just five ideas. Variations on these questions are great too! The point is to unlock your students’ sense of themselves, and to encourage them to be creative with their own back story. 

How to Write the Coalition Application Essay

In this section, we’ll look at the Coalition Application essay prompts in more detail and look at what the questions are really asking of students. 

Question 1: Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.

This is, essentially, the ‘who are you?’ prompt. Colleges are asking students to show their character, to describe and analyse a moment that shaped their personality and their values. 

And we should stress – students need to show, not tell. They need to pick a moment from their life that demonstrates who they are in a compelling and thought-provoking way. 

It’s best to avoid cliches here. If they can, students should steer clear of making generalisations like ‘I’ve always had strong family values’ or ‘I pride myself on being a good leader’ if they don’t have the examples to back it up. 

Let’s take the leadership examples. Let’s say a student has captained their school hockey team. Was there ever a time when the team lost morale, or experienced a defeat that was a blow to their confidence? What did they do to help their fellow team mates? How does this demonstrate their leadership prowess? And what does it say about their wider character? 

This prompt requires students to have a lot of self-awareness about who they are, and where they’ve come from. Perhaps more than any other prompt, it requires deep self-reflection. 

Question 2: What interests or excites you? How does it shape who you are now or who you might become in the future?

It might be helpful to refer to this as the ‘values in action’ prompt. Sure, a student has an impressive resume of extracurricular activities and community service – but can they demonstrate that they’ve made a real and lasting impact through something they’ve done? 

Again, this essay is only as good as the story that a student chooses to tell. And a good story needs a powerful narrative, high stakes and relevant examples. 

Stories about the ‘greater good’ don’t mean that students need to become shining beacons of political activism, or boast about abolishing hunger in their local area. Smaller acts of kindness, generosity or just managing a difficult situation against the odds will be enough to get an admissions officer’s attention. 

For example, a student could be passionate about a volunteer position they’ve held at a care home. Even a story of making a small difference to the lives of one of the residents they met will seem genuine and individual. 

Or maybe your student was excited about organising a series of events to raise money for a charity at school. As well as a dedication to a good cause, this demonstrates entrepreneurial spirit and organisation skills. But again, small, specific examples will go a long way. 

Question 3: Has there been a time when an idea or belief of yours was questioned? How did you respond? What did you learn?

Students might think they are being asked about a time they completely changed their mind about something. Again, this doesn’t need to be the story of a complete conversion from one point of view to another. 

This is, in essence, another character/values prompt, and is asking students to talk about how they reacted when those values were challenged. They don’t have to come out of this story a radically different person, it’s just a prompt that is asking students to showcase a time when they had to engage critically with the world around them. 

It could be a student having their political or moral viewpoint questioned. Maybe their family upbringing gave them a certain perspective of the world, and there was a moment where this perspective was radically altered. Or maybe something they saw on the news, or read in a book, or even studied at school, provoked a fundamental shift in their political beliefs. 

Students shouldn’t be frightened to tackle difficult political issues in this prompt if they want to. It might be that students have particular views on abortion rights, civil liberties or international trade. US colleges love independent, engaged thinkers! 

Top tip

The Common App has also been known to ask students questions about a time when their beliefs were challenged. It’s something that US colleges are really interested in. To see further examples of how to answer this type of question, read our companion article on writing a Common App essay here.

Question 4: What success have you achieved or obstacle have you faced? What advice would you give a sibling or friend going through a similar experience?

This is a question that students can use to think about bigger questions about the world around them and how they can have an effect on it. What kind of world are they growing up in? What kind of world do they foresee on the horizon? 

The beauty of this prompt is that there’s no right answer. Whether it was a challenge they faced at school or at home, it allows them to take a look at what happened and how they would change it through the lens of giving a loved one advice.

What’s more, students will have very different takes on this, depending on where in the world they live. It’s probably why the Coalition has seen fit to set this question – it allows colleges to see the diversity of potential applicants, especially if they’re international students. 

Question 5: Describe a time when you had a positive impact on others. What were the challenges? What were the rewards?

When responding to this prompt, students should focus on a meaningful experience that showcases their ability to make a difference. For example, by choosing an instance where their actions ended in a positive outcome for others, such as volunteering in a community project or tutoring a classmate.

After describing their action, students can emphasise the rewards. They can talk about the positive changes that came about as a result and how they positively impacted others. It could be improvements in their well-being, academic performance, or overall quality of life.

Plus, make sure they highlight how this experience positively influenced their personal growth and character development. 

Admissions officers like to be able to see the impact on others but also understand how this experience has shaped the student as an individual. They can highlight their commitment to making a difference and the lasting impression it left on you, demonstrating your potential as a student at their institution.

Question 6: Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.

The open question might seem the most tempting. Students have a wide range of options here. 

But it might not be the best option for everyone. For some, the open essay prompt is a risk. This prompt is perhaps best suited to students who have a strong opinion on viewpoint on something, or who feel like they have a really interesting story they want to tell, free of any specific prompt. 

A student tackling Prompt 6 could, theoretically, tackle a topic or issue we’ve explored in our discussion of the previous four essay prompts. Or, alternatively, they could opt for something completely different. 

The sheer range of options is such that we couldn’t possibly hope to cover them all here, but here are a few things that students answering Prompt 6 could think about: 

  • Talk about a time when they have experienced severe failure or setback, how they dealt with it, or what they learned. 
  • Tackle a famous quote, be it philosophical, historical, scientific or literary. Explain why they agree/disagree with it. 
  • Take a position on a political or economic argument, and where they stand in relation to it. 
  • Write about a piece of culture or literature that means a lot to them. Why? How did it change their worldview? 

See what all these ideas for Prompt 6 have in common? They are still ways for students to explore their character, their background and their politics. They still offer students avenues to stretch their critical and analytical muscles and paint an interesting picture of who they are. 

So whilst this sixth Coalition prompt may seem open ended, students will ultimately still need to demonstrate the same qualities as in the other five. 

For more information on the Coalition Application and sending supporting essays and documents to colleges in the United States, download our free Ultimate Guide to Studying in the USA. 

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Using the free BridgeU platform and its intelligent matching tools, your students can find their best-fit programmes from over 28,000 universities all over the world