One of the most recurring questions I’ve recently been asked during our regular webinar series is that of how COVID-19 will affect or change the college admissions process. Students are worried that their application will suffer because their summer plans have been cancelled. Parents are wondering whether standardized test scores will now be less of a requirement. Families ask whether they should use the college essay to explain any extenuating circumstances due to the pandemic. In this article we’ll discuss an update the Common Application recently published on their website that answers these questions.

First, I’d like to remind you that the most important thing you could do to improve your college application is to develop an authentic personal story. Are you the theater kid? Are you the writer kid because you enjoy writing short stories and poetry? Are you an athlete? A musician? If you’re unsure what your story should or can be simply think about the areas in your life where you spend the most of your time or what your heart pulls you to do. It may just be one activity or it could be a couple. It may be things you do at school or could very well be things outside of school (babysitting, jobs, activism, etc). If you’re wondering where to begin discovering these themes, start by stringing together the things that you enjoy doing in your free time. My point in this paragraph is to remind you that you should still use—even in the light of this global pandemic—the core components of the college application (activity list, common application essay, supplemental essay, honors and awards, and the interview) to elaborate on this story. The aforementioned parts of the application should rarely discuss anything other than this story, including how COVID-19 impacted your application. That being said, there are two places where you can discuss how the pandemic impacted you: the “additional information” section and the newly added section the Common Application describes on their website as “a dedicated space to elaborate on the impact of the pandemic, both personally and academically. 

The “additional information” section is the last of the college application. It allows students up to 650 words to discuss anything that the rest of the application didn’t previously allow the student to discuss. This could include but is not limited to additional essays that discuss extenuating family circumstances (e.g. financial struggles), a link that the admissions officer could click on to view a student’s portfolio of work (e.g. an art portfolio, a music composition, etc), an elaborated explanation of certain extracurricular activities, etc. Now, students will have a dedicated space to discuss how COVID-19 impacted their application in addition to the “additional information” section. The Common Application writes, “We want to reduce anxiety for applicants affected by these events and provide them with a way to share their experience with colleges and universities.” This section will have a 250 word limit. 

In addition to the dedicated section for students, your guidance counselor who writes your letter of recommendation will also have a form that allows him or her to explain how the pandemic has impacted students and the greater school community at large. The guidance counselor can explain how academic requirements or grading scales have changed due to the pandemic (e.g. the school has gone P/F instead of A/B/C/D/F). These two additions to the common application hopefully puts the minds of students and parents at ease as they write a college application in the midst of this pandemic.

Please click this link to read the full statement from the Common Application: