College Essays 101: How to Answer the 2019-20 Coalition App Essay Prompts


Offering free college planning tools and a space to consolidate and save documents for your college application, Coalition for College aims to give all students, especially low income and first-generation students, access to college. One perk of the Coalition App is that it allows you to save your essays and notes to yourself in one place, MyCoalition Locker. You can have mentors, teachers, and parents read your drafts and provide feedback.

With the digital locker, “you choose what to share and when to share it – either with a trusted mentor in the collaboration space or with an application submission.“ Read more about the locker here.

If you’re tempted to save your essay prep for the fall, remember, the sooner you skim through your essay prompt options, the sooner you’ll be able to narrow down your favorites and brainstorm some ideas.

Learn more about the 2019-2020 prompt options below:

1. Sharing a story about yourself.

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

Certain prompts will resonate with you more than others. As you’re thinking back over your life, can you think of an experience that helped define who you are as a person? In this prompt, the idea is to select one defining experience. Instead of summarizing your life story, you’ll want to focus on a specific time, experience, or situation that led you to who you are now.

Questions to Consider:

  • What is “character”? Can you think of a time that you’ve shown character?

  • How did you become the person you are today? (Think: “If _____ didn’t happen, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.” Is there something that comes to mind?)

2. Supporting others for the greater good.  

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.

At first glance, you might think this essay is only for volunteers or students who’ve engaged in the community. But, volunteering isn’t the only thing you can talk about. Expand to think about times you’ve helped your family, a friend, a teacher. If you have experience volunteering, you can share an anecdote about working at a hospital or helping pull weeds at a community garden. Paint the picture for the reader, telling the challenges you faced and ultimately what you took away from the experience.

Questions to Consider:

  • What does the “greater good” mean to you? Can you think of a time you’ve been a part of working toward the greater good?

  • Think about a time you volunteered. What were the challenges? Were you scared to participate? How did you overcome that fear and jump into action?

  • How did helping another person or working toward the greater good make you feel? Accomplished? Hopeful? What were your takeaways?    

3. Challenging your own beliefs.

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?

In high school, your classrooms are filled with students who, for the most part, grew up in the same town or state as you did. Meanwhile, in college, you could meet students from around the country and across the world. Having your perspective challenged can be a nerve-wracking and unsettling experience. Through this prompt, you’ll have the opportunity to demonstrate your maturity in handling conflict, uncertainty, and how you work to understand others’ perspectives.  

Questions to Consider:

  • Can you think of a time, in or outside of class, when your beliefs were challenged?

  • After the conversation or situation, did your beliefs shift? How?

  • What did you learn about sharing your perspective? What did you learn about listening to the perspective of others?

4. Giving advice to someone you care about.

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)?

From social media to being in constant communication with one another, being a teenager is stressful. Add keeping your grades up and getting involved in school to the list, and things can start to feel pretty overwhelming. Of course, there are perks to being a teenager too (like not having to pay all of the bills quite yet, and having more free time). For this prompt, you want to demonstrate some of the perspectives you’ve gained so far.

Questions to Consider:

  • What do you wish you knew going into high school? What do you wish you knew going into junior or senior year?

  • What is something you wish you had done differently? What can your sibling or friend learn from your mistakes?

5. Topic of Choice

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

If none of the above prompts resonated with you, feel free to select your own topic. However, make sure that with whatever topic you choose, you are demonstrating who you are, telling us the challenges you’ve overcome or lessons you’ve learned along the way.

Questions to Consider:

  • Do you have an essay you’ve written for another class or another application that might be a good starting point for an admissions essay?

  • Do you have a hobby or passion that you can share?

Show Admissions Who You Are

In all the essays that admissions counselors have to read, being genuine stands out the most. As you’re writing your essay, be honest about the challenges you’ve had. Be sure to show who you really are and that you are ready for your next challenge.