How to Address COVID-19 on College Applications

By IvyWise on Thursday, May 21, 2020

serious young man sitting in cafe using laptopLearn About the Common App’s New COVID-19 Question

COVID-19 has impacted just about every element of students’ college prep and the college application process is no exception. From canceled SAT and ACT testing dates to a lack of opportunities to tour college campuses, the forthcoming application cycle is likely to look very different from previous rounds. 

Last week, the Common App announced the addition of an optional section, created to give students the opportunity to address how they have been affected by COVID-19. Keep reading to learn more about how to use this new section and what to consider when addressing COVID-19 on your college applications.

The Basics
The Common App has decided to provide a designated space for students to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic and how it has shaped their lives, personally and academically. As we’ve said before, colleges will read applications in context, meaning they understand what students are going through right now and will take that into consideration when evaluating applications this fall. The Common App is taking this a step further, by giving students the option to address COVID-19 specifically in one section of the application so that they can use the rest of the application as intended in order to allow colleges to fully get to know them.

This is helpful, as we have stated before that students shouldn’t use their personal statement to discuss COVD-19, as it is likely to be an extremely popular topic for students this admissions cycle and it will be hard for students to stand out with a subject matter that everyone else is addressing. Students should use the personal statement to tell admissions officers something about them that they can’t learn anywhere else in the application, and for the vast majority of applicants topics outside of the current events will do that best.

How it Works
The question on the impact of COVID-19 is optional and will appear in the Additional Information section of the application. The response length is limited to 250 words. The question will be accompanied by a detailed FAQ page, which will help students consider the kinds of topics they may wish to discuss, including illness and loss, housing and employment disruptions, and shifting family obligations. 

Below is the question that students will see: 

Community disruptions such as COVID-19 and natural disasters can have deep and long-lasting impacts. If you need it, this space is yours to describe those impacts. Colleges care about the effects on your health and well-being, safety, family circumstances, future plans, and education, including access to reliable technology and quiet study spaces.

Additional Information Section Will Remain
The new question is not replacing the Common App’s current Additional Information section, in which students are invited to discuss circumstances and qualifications not reflected elsewhere in the application. That section, along with its 650-word limit, will remain. 

Colleges Will Have Plenty of Context
As we mentioned before, college admissions officers understand what students are going through right now and are not looking for any way to disadvantage applicants during the admissions process because of the challenges they’re facing with COVID-19. In addition to context within this new section, the Common App is also adding a section in the Secondary School Report where college counselors can explain specifically how their students were impacted academically by the response to COVID-19. We also expect that there will be plenty of context within recommendation letters as well. So students can go into this application season confident that colleges know what was happening at their school and how it impacted their spring semester, without having to sacrifice valuable application space to elaborate.

What to Keep in Mind
Again, it’s up to students whether they wish to fill out this new section on the Common App. Admissions officers will not hold it against applicants who opt to skip over the impact of COVID-19 query. The new question isn’t meant to add another item onto applicants’ agendas, but rather to give every student the opportunity to discuss the pandemic and any personal or academic changes that have come about as a result. For some students, this new section may be an ideal opportunity to address changes in schooling and standardized testing. If the COVID-19 pandemic altered your plans for SAT or ACT exams or changed the course of your academic studies in any way, consider using this optional section to discuss these disturbances and how you have responded.

If you choose to answer the question, just like every other component of the Common App, take time to reflect on how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted your life and respond thoughtfully and honestly. Begin drafting your response well in advance and use the opportunity to reflect on your personal development and long-term goals, and don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from your college counselor.

While the upcoming college admissions cycle has already brought about several changes, students don’t need to stress. Instead, future applicants can feel confident and excited about the opportunities that await by doing their research, staying informed about updates and policy changes, and reaching out for help and support when needed. If you are preparing to apply to college and looking for personalized guidance, our team of admissions experts is here to help.

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