The college application essay allows students to explain this year's obstacles.

Lately, I’ve been asked during our regular webinar series is how COVID-19 will affect or change the college admissions process. Students are worried that their application will suffer because their summer plans are 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. Here, we’ll discuss an update to the Common Application recently published on their website that answers these questions. The COVID-19 college application essay still plays by most of the same rules.

Develop Your Story

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? An athlete? A musician?

If you’re unsure what your story should or can be, try this. Simply think about the areas in your life where you spend most of your time. What does your heart pull you to do? It may just be one activity or it could be a couple. You may include the things you do at school. It could very well be things outside of school (babysitting, jobs, activism, etc). Start by stringing together the things that you enjoy doing in your free time.

My point is to remind you that you should still use the core components of the college application. This applies even in light of this global pandemic. These components include: an activity list, common application essay, supplemental essay, honors and awards, and the interview.

The aforementioned parts of the application should rarely discuss anything other than this story, including how COVID-19 impacted your application. That 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.” 

Additional Information

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 additional essays that discuss extenuating family circumstances. It might be a link that the admissions officer could click on to view a student’s portfolio of work. Students might include a thorough explanation of certain extracurricular activities. The options abound.

Now, students will have a dedicated space in their college application essay to discuss how COVID-19 impacted their application process 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 has a 250-word limit. 

Your Letter of Recommendation

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 put the minds of students and parents at ease as they write a college application in the midst of this pandemic.