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Should You Address COVID in Your Common App?


Essays have always played an important role in college admissions. Given COVID, they’ll be even more important in 2020-2021. Many schools have become test optional, and admissions officers recognize that the pandemic has affected all applicants to some degree.


This year’s Common App includes a question about COVID. You can find more about it here.


Should everyone answer this question?


Probably not.


Admissions officers read hundreds of applications. Common responses to this new prompt will blend together at best and may begin to annoy reviewers at worst. (Let’s face it, they’re human too.) Given this, only students who have been affected by the pandemic beyond the norm should answer this question.


Should you answer this question?

  • Did you lose an important opportunity that the admissions committee should know about? An important sports season for recruitment? A major academic competition? If so, provide a few sentences indicating this.

  • Did your family suffer significantly (e.g., unemployment, illness, death of a loved one)? If so, this is the place to write a bit more about your experience. One approach would be to prepare a short essay that: describes the loss, explains how it affected you, discusses how you dealt with it, and shares what you’ve learned from this experience.

Given this new optional section of the App, it’s best not to focus on COVID elsewhere.


So, what should be the topic of your main essay?


To answer this question, it’s important to understand your three primary objectives. They are to:

  • Share who you are. This can cover anything: your passions, interests, family traditions, personality.

  • Relay something new. Don’t duplicate information provided elsewhere in your application.

  • Provide an “elevator pitch” for an admissions officer to bring to the rest of the committee.

Knowing this, how do you write a fantastic main essay?

  • Review the prompts. They are provided here. Do any jump out at you? If not, that’s okay. The last one allows you to write about anything.

  • Brainstorm. Don’t think too hard. Write down all possible ideas related to your potential topics. Pick the one that excites you the most. Your enthusiasm will come through in the writing.

  • Don’t edit yourself when you start writing. Sometimes the best writing comes from a stream of consciousness. It’s always easier to cut words than to be parallized by a blank page.

  • Tell an engaging story with vivid details. This is one of the few places that the admissions committee can hear from you directly, especially if you are unable to interview.

  • Keep it focused. There’s a very useful adage when preparing important presentations: KISS. “Keep it simple, Stupid.” Don’t try to cover too much.

  • Revise your draft. Repeat as necessary.

We will discuss how to edit your essay drafts in a future post.


Gail Agronick, principal of WorksWrite, has a twenty-year track record of helping students gain admission to their top schools. She can be reached here.

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