Common application introduces optional writing section on Covid-19

Many high school students will be tempted to talk about the coronavirus in their personal college essays this fall, but they are likely to tell the same story about the pandemic – a story any student can tell. This concern led to the creation of a new writing section in the Common Application.

Many universities have already announced adjustments to their application requirements, especially those regarding standardized testing. Additional editorial prompts are also likely to change to address the pandemic and its impact on students, but they have yet to be officially released by colleges and universities.

The Common App, however, announced a change in its app earlier this week. The app will now include an optional writing section for students to write about the impact of Covid-19 on their lives. The new prompt reads:

“Community disruptions such as Covid-19 and natural disasters can have profound and 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 situation, future plans, and education, including access to reliable technology and quiet study spaces.

  • Would you like to share something on this topic? WE
  • Please use this space to describe how these events have affected you.

The question will be optional and will appear in the Additional Information section of the request. The length of the response will be limited to 250 words.

A Forbes series on messages from college admissions officers quotes Jim Rawlins, assistant vice president and director of admissions at the University of Oregon, encouraging use of this new section: “When you are given the chance to share the practical impacts that Covid-19 has had on you, such as your school environment, health or your family’s work / income, you can share it. This will help us put your academic record (and everything else) in the right context … ”.

Many advise against writing about the pandemic in any other section of their application, and in particular avoiding writing about the pandemic in general essay sections. “You may want to avoid the topic if your essay is more like a story about what happens with everyone, versus how it impacts you and how that helps us know who YOU ​​are,” Rawlins advised. .

Common App President and CEO Jenny Rickard said; “The goal is to have a central place for students and counselors to describe their experiences due to Covid-19 just once while providing colleges and universities with the information they need to understand each student’s unique background . “

Changes to the common app extend to high school counselors, who will additionally be asked to provide information on adjustments to schools in relation to the pandemic. The optional section will indicate:

“Your school may have made adjustments due to community disruptions such as Covid-19 or natural disasters. If you haven’t yet addressed these changes in your uploaded school profile or elsewhere, you can expand here. Colleges are particularly interested in understanding the changes regarding:

  • Rating scales and policies
  • Conditions for obtaining the diploma
  • Methods of instruction
  • Schedules and course offers
  • Test requirements
  • Your academic calendar
  • Other extenuating circumstances

Your students will have a similar space in their app to share how these events have personally affected them.

The optional Covid-19-related writing section provides a valuable opportunity for students whose lives have been disrupted by the pandemic to explain to admissions committees their unique situations. While meaningful reflections on the impact of the pandemic may be reserved for personal statements and further testing, this section should be reserved for “practical impacts” as defined by Rawlins.

Students should discuss events that colleges will not learn otherwise in the remainder of the application, such as family illness or financial hardship. For students who have experienced such events as a result of Covid-19, it is important to use this section to discuss the impacts on their family and community, and to convey a message of resilience to admissions committees.


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