The College Series Pt. 2: How to Apply


Daevan Mangalmurti

Searching for answers in the college process.

Daevan Mangalmurti, Editor

It’s application time. Some of you may have already submitted some of your college applications- if you have, more power to you. But it’s worth it to get an overview of all the ways you can apply to college, and to learn how to make things work best for you. In this segment we’ll review the major types of college applications and provide some information about deciding which one to use. 


Common App

The Common Application is the reigning titan of college applications, right up there with the College Board and FAFSA in the triumvirate people are tired of hearing about by the end of the application process. The application is divided into six parts: profile, family, education, testing, activities, and essays. The first four categories are pretty simple. All you’ll need to do is check boxes and name names. The activities section is a little more difficult- it requires you to think about what you want to include to create a picture of you for admissions counselors. The Common App personal statement is the most difficult section of all because it involves fleshing yourself out beyond grades and activities. Not all colleges require it, but many do. Some also have supplemental questions, which are short essays or responses specific to their schools. The Common App allows you to apply to up to 20 of the more than 800 schools that accept the application. 

Coalition App

The Coalition App is the closest thing the Common App has to a rival; more than 140 universities have joined this 3-year old platform, which aims to serve lower-income and underrepresented students. Universities can only join it if they prove that they offer additional resources to students who might traditionally be unable to attend college. The Coalition App has two important features: a “Locker” and a “Collaboration Space.” The locker is a place to store documents and images that create a portfolio of a student’s high school work. The collaboration space allows parents, teachers, and counselors to edit students’ work, submit recommendation letters, and help students through their applications. The other main feature of the Coalition App is that it lets students start putting information into their applications as early as freshman year. That’s not relevant for this year’s seniors, but underclassmen, take note. 

Universal College App

The Universal College App was once the Common App’s closest competitor. Today, only 18 schools accept the application. The main difference between the Universal College App and the Common App is that the Universal College App focuses on test scores and grades; an essay is not required (although participating schools can require short supplemental essays). The Universal College App also allows you to add your online presence—social media, websites, articles—to the application. 

QuestBridge National College Match App

The QuestBridge process is intended for high-achieving, low-income high school seniors, similarly to the Coalition App. A big difference is that it actively partners with top-tier colleges and universities to create supports for students and a slightly different application system. It’s too much to get into here, but all the information can be found on their website. Students have to apply to QuestBridge’s National College Match to be eligible for this application, and only Finalists receive all the support. The deadline for students to apply is September 26th. 

UC Application

Like many flagship state public universities, the University of California (UC) system has its own application, accessible on UC websites. The main reason for this is the massive number of students who apply to and attend one of the system’s 11 schools. The application has its own essay prompts and activities requirements, but much of the basic process is similar to the Common App. 

Other Applications

A number of private and public schools have their own applications and have not signed on to any of the application platforms above. If that’s the case, you’ll have to apply directly through their websites or forms. A comprehensive list of schools that only take their own applications isn’t available, but notable examples in Pennsylvania might be Slippery Rock and IUP. If your college of choice doesn’t have an option to apply through the Common App, Coalition App, Universal College App, or QuestBridge National College App on its admission page, that means it will only accept its own application. 

Some schools that are on the Common or Coalition App also have their own proprietary applications. There usually isn’t much difference in what is required of you, but you may hear back more quickly if you use a school’s own application. Pitt’s application options are an example of this. 


I’ve got to run, but see you next week, where we’ll go over deciding when to apply and what to include in your application.