Seniors who are applying to college right now have had a pretty rough go of it. After all, their junior year—the year when grades count the most, the year of establishing yourself in your extracurriculars, the year of building leadership credentials, the year of visiting college campuses, and so much more—was interrupted (in many cases, repeatedly) by school closings, shifts from in-person to digital and back again, and experiments with hybrid learning and other pandemic solutions. Nothing about last school year was normal, so it’s natural to want to discuss the impacts of the pandemic on your college applications. Should you? And if so…how?
Should you write about COVID-19 in your main college essays or essay supplements?
Not really, and if you must, only a little bit.
Don’t Focus on COVID-19
Both the Common App and the Coalition App have added an optional essay space to write about how COVID-19 has impacted you. Since you have a dedicated space to talk about the pandemic, don’t let your other essays become COVID-19 essays.
Consider Weaving COVID-19 into a Bigger Story
That doesn’t mean that you can’t talk about the pandemic at all—just that it shouldn’t be a big focus of your essay. If it is difficult to write about your chosen topic without addressing COVID-19, then weave the pandemic into the background of the essay.
For example, if you’re writing about developing your interest in majoring in pre-med, perhaps you might include reference to the ways in which you continued to develop that interest during quarantine. Maybe you made masks to donate as part of a public health effort, or you volunteered as a contact tracer, or you took an online class.
Should you answer the optional COVID-19 essay prompt?
Possibly, but it’s okay to leave it blank.
How do your experiences differ from those of other students?
Don’t waste space elaborating on the obvious. Admissions officers already know that the school year was interrupted, technical difficulties often impeded learning, AP exams were weird, access to the ACT and SAT was limited, and being trapped at home isn’t fun. These are all experiences shared by the vast majority of your peers, so they don’t provide meaningful context to your application.
Instead, write something only you could write. Think about how you’ve used the time, how you’ve excelled in spite of the challenges presented by COVID-19, and how you’ve grown as a result of the experience. Only answer the prompt if you have something unique to write.
Are you complaining or explaining?
No one likes a complainer.
What’s more, no one enjoys pandemic life, so you’re unlikely to gain much sympathy by complaining to admissions officers who have faced a lot of the same struggles and annoyances that you have.
Make sure that you are aware of your privileges. If you are among those who have not been hospitalized, had a family member hospitalized, had a family member die, faced extreme financial hardships because of COVID, or missed school due to a lack of access to necessary technology, then you are LUCKY. No matter what hurdles COVID-19 has thrown your way, there are many others who have had it far worse. Make sure your essay reflects that.
Your college application is supposed to highlight your positive qualities, so try to keep your COVID response positive, too. Focus on stories that illustrate your adaptability, grit, and resilience. The emphasis should not be on the challenges but on how you overcame them.
What if you can’t think of anything meaningful to write about?
If you cannot honestly think of a meaningful and unique impact that COVID has had on you, you have some options:
- Check with your school counselor to find out how much detail your school will be providing regarding COVID-19. Use your COVID-19 response to provide any missing information.
- Leave it blank. It truly is optional, so it won’t hurt you to leave it blank.
These options are far better than offering an inauthentic analysis of how COVID has affected you.
How should I approach the COVID-19 essay?
Start by thinking about how you responded to pandemic-related challenges. Try to think of examples of ways that you became more adaptable and resilient. For example, did you:
- Find ways to transition some of your usual activities online?
- Seek out new learning opportunities?
- Discover silver linings to pandemic life?
- Take clear actions to overcome challenges?
- Help others cope with pandemic life?
Next, think about the ways you used the time spent in quarantine. Did you:
- Learn anything new? Maybe you took an online course, used a language app, or taught yourself a new computer program.
- Start or revisit a hobby? Maybe you used YouTube to learn to knit, or you took virtual music lessons, or you started painting.
- Take on any new projects? Maybe you built a computer, redecorated your room, or wrote a series of short stories.
- Develop stronger relationships? Maybe the time trapped together helped form stronger family bonds, or maybe the effort of maintaining socially distanced friendships taught you valuable lessons.
No matter what topic you choose, may sure that you follow the same rules when writing your COVID-19 essay that you would follow for any of your other essays:
- Write a story about a meaningful
- Maintain an authentic voice—your essays should sound like you.
- Paint a picture by showing instead of telling.
- Follow all the steps of the writing process: brainstorming, planning, drafting, and several rounds of revising.