Guide to Essays and Interviews • Undergraduate

How to Deal With the COVID-19 Essay Question on the Common Application

POSTED ON 08/27/2020 BY The Red Pen

The current pandemic has affected the lives of students all over the world. As a prospective applicant, you may have had to deal with some unprecedented circumstances, which could significantly impact your college application. But where do you provide the details about these experiences? How can you let the admissions officers know that your college application would have been different under normal circumstances? 

For students applying to US colleges, the Common Application has updated their form to include a COVID-19 question in the additional information section. This optional 250-word question allows you to elaborate on the effects that COVID-19 has had on “your health and well-being, safety, family circumstances, future plans, and education, including access to reliable technology and quiet study spaces.” So, rather than writing about the pandemic in your personal essay, you can use this space.

However, there are a few dos and don’ts you need to consider when writing the COVID-19 Common App Essay:

1) Standardised testing:

The sudden lockdown has affected several students who intended to take the SAT or ACT this year. Students have had to deal with closed testing centres or cancelled testing dates. If you have faced a similar problem, use this section in the Common Application to write about how your testing plans were affected by the pandemic. Do not write about the scores you got in mock tests.

2) Summer programmes or extracurricular activities:

Summer is usually the time when students plan campus visits or summer programmes. If you had to change your summer plans because of the pandemic, tell the admissions officers about it. Don’t just mention the disruption that COVID-19 caused, but discuss what you did instead. Did you sign up for online workshops, build on your skills or initiate working on a project of your own? Similarly, if you are a sportsperson and your practice has been put on hold, here’s your chance to elaborate on how you stayed fit. Were you not able to participate in a planned competition? Did you build a makeshift gym at home? Did you go out for runs? Additionally, if a cancellation of your plans led you to develop a new interest, such as coding or baking, this is where you can write about it.

3) Access to reliable technology:

Quarantine meant a complete change in learning methods. Classes went online and students globally had to rely only on virtual interaction. How did you cope with this change? Did you have problems accessing Wi-Fi or any other technology? If yes, how did you manage to make things work for you? Did the stay-at-home situation for the whole family lead to less concentration? What happened to the group projects you were supposed to work on? How did you coordinate with your peers? If you faced similar challenges and worked your way through them, elaborate on your experiences here.

4) Family circumstances:

If you or your family members were affected, then write about whether you had proper access to healthcare (if required). If you lost someone to the virus, elaborate on its impact on your mental health and academic performance. With families having to practice complete quarantine, arranging for essentials has been a major task. If you had a similar experience, expand on it. Many people lost their jobs due to the economic impact of the pandemic. If your family had to undergo a similar situation, talk about how that affected your daily life, summer plans and studies. Or if a family member is a frontline healthcare worker and stayed away from you to protect you, describe the challenges you faced. How did you cope with the person’s absence? Did you have to shoulder extra responsibilities such as catering to your siblings’ needs and supporting them? For those who routinely took out time from their day to distribute food and other necessities to grandparents or the elderly living in the society, here is where you can discuss these initiatives. Use this space in the Common Application to write about all the challenges you had to deal with as a family and how you adapted to them.

Although the question is optional, it allows you to explain any change that may have affected your college application. So, make good use of it. However, while answering this section, do remember that admissions officers are looking for stories that showcase resilience. So avoid talking about how you had to adapt to learning online because that is something that all students globally had to endure. Also, avoid using this section to complain about your situation, but rather explain your circumstances, highlighting what you did best in your conditions.

Need some help putting together your application? Read these resources–Overview of the Common Application, the Activities Section, the Letters of Recommendation and some general essay writing tips. Our blog also has many undergraduate-related posts, including how to unearth your essay topic and how to nail your essay style. If you require further assistance with your undergraduate application, please get in touch with us.