Should I Write About COVID-19 in My College Applications?

Thursday, October 29, 2020

College Counselors Give Advice on How to Address COVID-19 In College Applications

As seniors prepare to submit applications during an admissions cycle unlike any other, many students may be wondering whether or not they should discuss the pandemic and if so, how? While there isn’t a universal approach that will be best for every applicant, there are some tips students should keep in mind when planning their approach. 

From the new Common App supplement to whether or not to discuss the pandemic in your personal statement, our IvyWise counselors have the answers to your most pressing application questions. Keep reading to learn more about what to keep in mind when writing about COVID-19 in college applications. 

Should applicants write their personal statement about COVID-19? 

In general, we don’t recommend that students should write about COVID-19 in their main personal statement. There may be exceptions to this based on a student’s individual experience, but since the personal essay is the main place in the application where the student can really allow their voice to be heard and share insight into who they are as an individual, there are likely many other topics they can choose to write about that are more distinctive and unique than COVID-19.

Should I answer the optional COVID-19 prompt?

The Common Application has an optional 250-word supplement that specifically allows students to address how COVID-19 has impacted them over the past several months. Before choosing to respond to that prompt, students need to remember that high school students across the globe experienced similar things as a result of the pandemic: online learning, canceled activities, canceled SAT/ACT tests – writing about those things won’t highlight something unique to that student’s experience. Based on how the prompt is worded, it suggests that it’s designed to capture significant hardships a student and/or the student’s family experienced as a result of the pandemic or even a natural disaster.

What should I address in the optional COVID-19 section?  

This is a space where students can provide contextual information about their application and make their “voice” heard in terms of how they and their family have been impacted by COVID-19. Students shouldn’t feel that they must respond to this optional prompt, especially if their experience was generally the same as many other students (e.g., online learning, missing friends, missing activities, canceled SAT/ACT, etc.)

Students who do choose to respond to this prompt should be direct in the way that they present the information and simply stick to the facts. This space is best used to discuss hardship and/or significant challenges that the student and/or the student’s family experienced as a result of COVID-19 and how they have responded to those difficulties.  

If you are writing about COVID-19, consider what it means for your life now. How has it changed you? Is your worldview different? Don’t forget that, along with telling a story or explaining an experience, admissions officers always want to know the overall impact it’s had on you.

How can students balance the negatives (what they lost to COVID-19) with the positives (what they learned or gained in this time)?

Students should think very carefully about whether or not writing their entire personal essay about their experience with COVID-19 is going to fully capture who they are as a person and how they want to present themselves to an admissions officer. If possible, a student should consult with their high school counselor to discuss whether writing their full personal statement about COVID-19 is really the best approach to take.

That said, there are still going to be students who feel this is a compelling topic for their essay. If a student does choose to write about COVID-19 in their personal statement, then it’s key to present the challenges they experienced in a direct and detailed manner while offering insight on what they learned and how they pivoted during this challenging time. Approaching the essay in this manner will provide important balance while demonstrating personal growth and vulnerability. 

Whenever possible, students should highlight the positives that they have learned or achieved rather than negatives about a situation.  This applies to students’ experiences with COVID-19 as well, though students should certainly not hold back adding context about major impacts the pandemic has had on them. Colleges do want to know what is going on in your world, but move beyond the obvious!

Although there may not be a one-size-fits-all approach to discussing COVID-19, there are several options students can consider when finalizing their college applications. If you’re getting ready to hit submit and looking for additional guidance, our team of college admissions experts can share personalized advice.  

Related Topics

College Application Tips, College Essays

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