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How to Approach the Common Application’s Coronavirus Prompt

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On May 12, 2020, the Common Application announced that it would be adding a new, dedicated section for students to address how coronavirus has affected their educations, their college preparation, their family circumstances, and their lives.

The question applicants see in the Additional Information section of the application is:

“Community disruptions such as COVID-19 and natural disasters can have deep and long-lasting impacts. If you need it, this space is yours to describe those impacts. Colleges care about the effects on your health and well-being, safety, family circumstances, future plans, and education, including access to reliable technology and quiet study spaces. For more information, check out our COVID-19 FAQ.

Do you wish to share anything on this topic? Y/N

Please use this space to describe how these events have impacted you.”

Students are given up to 250 words to address the prompt.

The Common App’s goal in adding this topic was to provide common language by which colleges and universities can understand how the coronavirus pandemic has affected students, both academically and personally. This section is entirely optional; if students do not feel they have been affected, they can indicate that they do not wish to share any information.

Should I Respond?

Almost no one was unaffected by the medical, economic, and psychological effects of COVID-19. As such, it is primarily advisable to respond to this question in situations where you and your family were affected in meaningful, longer-lasting ways: serious health concerns, loss of income, etc. If COVID’s impact on you was something that all students experienced, like struggles with virtual learning or an inability to participate in extracurricular activities, it may be less worthwhile to answer this particular question.

Moreover, if everything you might want to say will be covered elsewhere in your application, whether by you or by your counselor, you also do not need to respond here.

What Information Is Appropriate to Include?

Depending on your circumstances, you’ll want to use this space to let admissions officers know how COVID-19 has negatively affected you and your family. Some things to consider mentioning include:

Illness in your family. Of course, if you or someone in your family became seriously ill from the coronavirus, you should certainly mention it. Dealing with a serious illness, or taking care of a family member with one, inevitably causes immediate and longer-lasting disruptions to a person’s life. Colleges will want to know if this situation applies to you.

Economic harm to your family. If someone in your family lost a job or faced other economic hardships as a result of coronavirus, let colleges know. Regardless of circumstance, such a major change can be hugely disruptive, even traumatic, for every family member. Colleges absolutely want to know if this is something you have experienced.

Changes to your educational path. Colleges will know about changes to your school from your school counselor, but they also want to hear how you’ve been personally affected by COVID-19. Were you forced to change schools? Did you have to work harder to overcome learning difficulties than you would have in other circumstances?

New responsibilities you’ve taken on at home. Even if your family has been healthy and well at this time, your parents or guardians may have been scrambling to take care of things at home while still working at their jobs. Consider mentioning work you did taking care of a younger sibling, neighborhood kids, or helping out at home in some other way.

Is There Anything I Definitely Shouldn’t Say?

There are many great answers to this question and only a small number of bad ones. Still, there are a few pitfalls to avoid when answering:

Don’t explain what’s going on at your school. Your first instinct might be to explain that your classes were disrupted, you went weeks without a real class, you didn’t finish the material, and so on. Resist this urge! School counselors fill out their own version of the Common Application so admissions officers know what’s going on at your school, and they have their own version of this question. Rest assured that colleges will know exactly what your school has (and hasn’t) done as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent school closures.

Don’t lament the opportunities you couldn’t access. Almost every student in the country has missed out on something as a result of COVID-19, whether it was a competition, a summer program, a job or internship, a service project, or just a missed semester to improve his or her grades.

Don’t focus on the experiences of others. Your college application is a place to talk about yourself, both what you’ve done and what you hope to do in the future. That focus should be true in this COVID-19 prompt as well. This is not a space for you to write at length about the experience of others during this time. Remember, colleges want to learn about you and what your coronavirus experience has been in this space. Stick to specifics, and you’ll be in good shape.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re writing about coronavirus or any other topic, your college application should consistently showcase your strengths and your potential. Admissions officers care about every word, regardless of where they appear in the application. If you respond to this prompt, consider how you can show colleges that you’ve been productive and resilient during this unprecedented time.

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