Coalition App essays: The "meaningful contribution" prompt

street sign reading success

This post is another in my series on how to address the college application essay prompts from the Coalition App. This year, you have five prompts from which to choose as an anchor for your essay. Each prompts presents its unique possibilities and challenges. Today we will look at the meaningful contribution prompt. This a fairly straightforward prompt that allows you both to tell a good story. As well as to reflect on how your experiences have shaped your beliefs, your expectations, and your understanding of what it is to be human.

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

So, the story you must tell in this 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. And, 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.

Mark Montgomery
Educational consultant and admissions expert


Take a look at the 2017-2018 Coalition Application essay prompts!

The Common Application essay prompts came out last week; today, we wanted to take a look at a list of the Coalition Application essay prompts.
The Coalition Application website recommends that each prompt be answered in  300-400 words, and strongly recommends that you do not exceed 500-550 words. Here are the prompts:

  1. Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
  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.
  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?
  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)?
  5. Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.

Both applications have similar questions about your personal beliefs being challenged, and both have a “submit an essay of your choice” prompt as well. Interestingly, the Common Application took out their choose-your-own prompt a few years ago; it’s interesting to see it back in the lineup now that the Coalition Application has chosen to include it.
It’s also important to highlight that the Coalition essays are shorter by about 100 words.  As you decide which application platform you want to use–and which application prompts you want to address, you need to consider whether you can say what you want to say in 550 words or fewer.  In some cases, that extra 100 words can make a world of difference.  On the other hand, a pithy essay can be more effective.
Either way, the goal is to write an essay that represents you well and helps you to stand out in the admissions process.
Need a Hook for your College Essay
Mark Montgomery
Educational Consultant and College Admissions Expert
Related articles:
The Cardinal Rule for Writing a Perfect College Essay
How To Write A Perfect College Essay for the Common Application–Your Background Story
How to Write the Perfect College Essay–Tell a Good Story
How To Write The Perfect College Essay–Paint A Picture
How To Write the Perfect College Essay–Grab Some Attention