Occam Guide to College Application Platforms

~5 Minutes / ~1067 Words
Last Updated Dec 12, 2020

The college applications process is a long and often complicated one. Once you have chosen which schools you want to apply to you’ll want to start on your applications immediately. If you want help keeping track of all your deadlines and application-related to-dos, there’s an app for that: Occam’s VitaeMe app (download here for iOS and Android) will allow you to select your schools and keep track of what you need to do to get your applications done well and in on time!

So, how do I apply?

These days, most universities are moving away from having their own applications. Some of the larger state schools, like the University of Alabama, and some of the more prestigious schools, like Georgetown and MIT, still use their own specific applications, but the general trend is for universities to accept a shared application that allows students to fill out certain sections once, and then allows universities to add additional college-specific questions and essays. You may know of at least one of these shared applications, the Common App. There are however others and in this post we’ll go through several of the main shared application offerings and how they compare to each other.

An Introduction to The Applications 

The Common Application is the biggest shared application. It has over 800 universities, and most big name universities, with a few exceptions, offer it. The next biggest is the Coalition Application. Basically, a couple years ago there was a big technical problem with the Common Application, and a lot of universities said "This is crazy! We can’t be dependent on a single application we don’t even control!", so they got together and made the Coalition App. In the few short years it has been out, however, it is already on the decline. There are about 90 schools that use the Coalition App. The last two big ones are the shared University of California (UC) App, which is used for the 9 UC campuses, like UCLA, Berkeley, and San Diego. And then there is the ApplyTexas App, which is accepted by over 60 4-year universities in Texas, plus some 2-year colleges there. It’s important to note that some universities may give you the option of which application to use.

How are these application systems similar and different?

Each of these applications will have some sections in common:

Basic personal profile

This is the most straightforward part of the applications, where you input biographical and family information.


Each application will ask you to list the high school(s) you have attended, the courses you are taking during your final year in school, and most ask for your cumulative GPA.

Test scores are also reported in this section. If you are an international student, you’ll be required to report your TOEFL or IELTS scores. If you have taken the ACT or SAT, along with SAT subject tests, you can report those scores here if required.


Listing and describing the extracurricular activities you’ve participated in is an important part of these applications. Both the Common App and Apply Texas have space for ten activities, while the UC and Coalition applications have space for eight.


Each application has a space to list and briefly describe any academic honors or awards you’ve received during your high school career.


All the application systems have an essay that is usually required by the colleges in that system. Some schools within the Common App and Coalition App do not require you to submit the essay, however, this is rare. The length, subject matter, and number of essays may differ though. Usually this essay will ask you to discuss something personal and important to you. There’s typically a fifth, optional section that allows you to send different types of extra stuff, like art portfolios, links to research you’ve done, a copy of your résumé or even text boxes that just say: hey, if you have any extra information you want to share with us, feel free.

The applications also have some differences in format and content:

Course Reporting:

The UC and Apply Texas applications ask students to report the courses they’ve taken and grades they’ve received for their full high school career.

Only a select few schools in the Coalition and Common Applications require this.


Most colleges, including those in the Apply Texas, Coalition and Common App systems have various deadline options. These include Early Decision, Early Action, Early Action II and more.

The UC system has a single deadline and only accepts applications from November 1 through November 30.

Testing Requirements:

While schools in all these application systems may choose to be "test optional" and not require students to report their scores from the ACT or SAT, it is not common.

The UC system has now made all their schools "test-blind."

[Note: This year (2020) will likely see many schools waive their testing requirements due to the coronavirus pandemic, so testing sections and requirements will look a little different this year than in past or likely, future years.]

A few other distinctions:

The Coalition application only works with colleges that show they provide substantial support (through financial aid, scholarships, etc) to underrepresented and lower-income students. So, if financial considerations are a large part of your college decision, it may be helpful to apply to schools in this application system.

The Coalition application also has a "locker" tool that allows students to store documents starting in 9th grade so that important grades, community service hours, work experiences and more aren’t forgotten when it comes time to apply in 12th grade.

The Apply Texas application has separate sections for employment, community service and internships (apart from the activities section), while the other applications include these types of experiences all within the activities section.

As if this isn’t complicated enough, some schools like the University of Alabama, Georgetown and MIT all have their own applications and are not found on any of these systems. At Occam, we know it’s hard to navigate all of these different applications, along with various requirements and deadlines. This is exactly why we created our app, VitaeMe (download here for iOS and Android). You’ll be able to keep track of your applications and all their pieces in one, user-friendly place, even when they are on different platforms. Now that’s working smarter, not harder!