The Elements of the Coalition Application Essay
The Coalition App essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely on a selected topic and helps you distinguish yourself in your own voice. The Coalition App prompts provide a structure that will help you stand out from the crowd. What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 550 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response. Remember: 550 words is your limit, not your goal. Use the full range if you need it, but don’t feel obligated to do so. The Coalition App actually recommends that each prompt be answered in 300-400 words. (The application won’t accept a response shorter than 250 words.).
Generally, we see these Coalition App essays, or “personal statements,” as having two primary components. First is the story. You have to tell your reader a story in which you are the main character. Always remember that you must be at the center of whatever you write since the goal is for the essay to provide a multi-dimensional picture of who you are beyond the basic information that is captured on the rest of the application. Each of the prompts requires that you relay a short narrative that has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
The second component is your reflection or analysis of your story. What does the story mean? How should we, your readers, interpret your story? Share the lessons you derived from your story, and help your reader to understand how this small event shows your values, your priorities, and your plans for the future.
So, as you read through these prompts and our description of how to address the prompts, think about those stories, those events, those anecdotes, those snippets of your own personal history that relate to the prompt. And as you remind yourself of these stories, begin to analyze what these stories say about you as a human being.
It may seem daunting at first, but remember that each of us has a unique story to tell. In fact, each of us has hundreds, even thousands of stories that make up our lives—even when we are young. So, don’t hesitate to share. In fact, some of our experiences that seem, at first, to be relatively insignificant can actually carry great weight and can help illustrate who we are, what we care about, and where we’re headed.
The Coalition App Essay Prompts
As you prepare to write your essay, it helps to go through each Coalition App essay prompt carefully. You need to ensure that you understand the meaning of the prompt, and that you consider the sorts of stories and reflections that you might use to respond.
Prompt #1: Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
The central focus of this Coalition App essay is a character trait you possess or are trying to develop. Perhaps the best way to start this essay is to identify those traits. For example, are you compassionate? amiable? gregarious, sympathetic, or witty? How would you describe your character? Clearly, you cannot describe every aspect of your character in about 500 words, so you may want to settle on a single aspect of your character that can serve as the pivot for this essay. But remember, you don’t just need the character trait, you need the story to go with it.
As with all the personal essay prompts, this one is very clear that you must tell a story. The story does not have to be heroic or superhuman. The story can be relatively mundane, but it must be told in an interesting way. Like every story, it must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Details in the narrative will help it come alive (although the 550-word limit will prevent you from going into too much detail). The story must also illustrate the character trait you are trying to describe. The story is the example, the illustration, the proof that you possess this trait.
Demonstrate vs. Shape
Our character traits are inconstant. Sometimes we exemplify them well. Sometimes we are actually trying to improve some character traits, such as our empathy, our diligence, or our human courtesy. So perhaps you may focus on a trait that you find to be quite solid—a “rock” at the center of your personality. On the other hand, you may choose to focus on a trait that you are working to improve. The story for this Coalition App essay, then, is one that demonstrates either the “rock” or the ways in which you are developing and improving your character.
Coalition App Essay Prompt #2: 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.
Meaningful Contribution to Others
The story you must tell in this Coalition App essay is one in which you did something that made life better for someone else. You took action to give something to someone else. That something might be material or immaterial: it could be an actual object, or it could be more like a feeling. However, this contribution must be significant—to you or to the recipient or both. Your story here is a discrete anecdote in which you improved the life of someone else.
Greater Good Was Your Focus
Community service is now considered an essential element of preparation for college admission. College admissions officers love stories in which teens perform selfless acts. But one of the paradoxes of modern secondary school life is that many teens are motivated to do service only because of a perceived “requirement,” whether explicit or implied, to add this service to your resume. This prompt specifically wants you to tell a story in which your primary motivation was the “greater good.” Admissions officers would like to see this dedication to service for the sake of service—not as a check box to tick on the way to college.
One of the most common and often least effective topics for this essay is service you rendered as part of a school trip, mission trip, or international experience organized by others to make it easy for you to do community service. In order for these experiences to work well, you must demonstrate your own motivations. Why was this organized trip the best way for you to improve the lives of others, and how can you prove that the “greater good” was the impetus for your participation in this experience?
Challenges and Rewards
Not every attempt to improve the lives of others actually works out as intended. Sometimes the contributor encounters stumbling blocks. Sometimes they even fail miserably. This prompt invites you to evaluate your actions and to reflect upon how well you actually were able to serve the “greater good.” Keep in mind that sometimes we gain the most through our mistakes, so there is no harm (and sometimes great benefit) in assessing your actions honestly and forthrightly. But if your contributions clearly and unequivocally improved the lives of others, by all means take credit for your successes.
Prompt #3: 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?
Belief or Idea
This Coalition App essay prompt hinges on some belief or value that you hold dear. At the core of the story, you must be able to identify this closely-held belief and explain why it is important to you.
At various times in our lives, we are called upon to defend our ideals or our principles, either because others don’t share these beliefs, or because you may hold a view that is unpopular or out of the ordinary. Your story in this essay revolves around a time when you were called upon to defend your belief against some countervailing force. This force could come from a particular person, a small group of people, or maybe even a very large group of people. What animates this essay, then, is the tension or conflict between your belief and the beliefs of others.
The “story” at the heart of this essay is the genesis of the tension, how you came to realize it, and how you came to a decision to do or say something in response (or not). Given that your values were under fire, did you do or say something to defend those values? Why or why not? You want to make the effort to explain your thought processes that eventually led to some sort of decision, action, or realization.
Affect Your Beliefs
The decision, action, or realization you made is the outcome of the story for this Coalition App essay prompt. You want to be sure to describe the outcome. Don’t stop there, however: explain and analyze that outcome. Was the decision the right one? Did you act to defend your values, and if so, what was the result? Perhaps you acted in a way that did not defend those values, and you later regretted your inability to stand up for your beliefs. Either way, you are asked in this prompt to reflect upon what you did (or did not do) to defend your beliefs or ideas, and to determine whether you would approach a similar conflict of beliefs or ideas in the same way in the future.
Coalition App Essay Prompt #4: 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)?
Being a Teenager
This Coalition App essay prompt wants you to evaluate your life experiences—your life as you are living it. Socrates once said something to the effect that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” The Coalition Application is asking you to examine your life, to evaluate it, and to share your observations. But at the heart of the essay, you need a story.
Hardest Part/Best Part
From my perspective, it seems difficult to identify both the best and the worst parts of teen life in only 550 words. Therefore, you may decide to focus on either the best or the worst. However, if you want to be sneaky—and perhaps successful in your presentation—you might consider an aspect of teen life that one might consider both the best and the worst. Most parts of our lives have both positive and negative aspects. Can you identify something about your experience as a teenager that can be examined from both angles? Here, again, it is helpful to focus on the story that shows how teenage life can be difficult or great—or both. As with all the other prompts, be sure that whatever you write about is made very personal to you and your own experience. Don’t write an observational treatise on the good and the bad of teenage life as you seen it. Put yourself in the middle of your observation.
Again, this prompt seems very broad for the word limit. One might develop a prompt that revolves completely around this idea of “advice” that is not at all connected to the experience of being a teenager. However, to stay focused on your experience as a teen today, and to stick with your evaluation of what is “hardest” and what is “best,” you may want to identify the single most important recommendation you might make to a sibling or friend so that they could minimize the hard bits and maximize the best bits. Don’t try to be exhaustive with this prompt: the word limit simply will not allow you to be. Instead, give a single, straightforward directive to this sibling or friend. Finally, make sure that this advice emanates from your story: something in that narrative should illustrate how following your guidance would make their lives better.
Prompt #5: Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.
The nice thing about this Coalition App essay prompt is that the admissions folks leave the choice of topic entirely to you. And therein lies some of the danger of deviating from the other prompts. You are free—and encouraged—to go beyond the limitations of these other prompts, but at the same time, you want to consider the fundamental commonalities found in the above prompts.
Ideas and Concepts
Your college essay should represent you as a student and as a learner. Not every topic has to be entirely serious, but you should consider whether your chosen topic has any intellectual or academic depth.
The heart of many of these prompts is some sort of change in your mindset, perspective, or understanding. Admissions folks are looking for young people who have made some sort of transition that demonstrates their maturity, depth of thought, or evolving view of the world.
You must have some sort of anecdote animating your essay that helps your reader to see your point. This is where you will “show” your reader your fundamental point. You are the main character of this essay in which you can demonstrate aspects of your personality, your values, and your point of view.
Analysis and Reflection
Every other prompt requires you to dig underneath the surface, to go beyond superficialities and to uncover the important truths at the center of your story. It is not enough to tell your reader the story: you must demonstrate the fundamental importance of the story to you. The story is the vehicle to convey a deeper understanding of you as a person.
Coalition App Essay: A Summary
The Coalition App essay is a vital opportunity for you to paint a three-dimensional portrait of yourself. Of course, you can’t paint every facet of yourself. You cannot paint your entire life story in just a few hundred words. But you can focus in on a very discrete anecdote about your life that helps give your reader a window onto your priorities, your motivations, your intentions, and your values.
While it seems corny, those anonymous readers in the admissions office really do want to get to know you. They do pay attention to the essay, and they want to get a sense of who you are. So don’t be afraid to bare your soul a little bit. Of course, at first it will seem a little weird to get so personal with a perfect stranger. But once you get going–once you decide upon a strong topic that is rooted in one of these prompts–you’ll be on your way to a winning essay.