Should I Respond to the COVID Essay Prompt on College Applications?

For the Class of 2021, both the Common Application and the Coalition application offer an extra space for students to talk about their experience during the COVID-19 spring, summer and fall through a specific COVID-19 essay prompt.  Most non-Common App and Coalition colleges will give you space to talk about your COVID-19 experience as well.

Please keep in mind that EVERY student experienced incredible disruption to their school and extra-curricular activity schedules this past spring.  The question is not an opportunity to share how annoying this all has been, or to lament how much you missed seeing your friends or even learning in-person.  The Common App COVID-19 essay prompt is worded this way:

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.  Do you wish to share anything on this topic?  Please use this space to describe how these events have impacted you.

Usually when something is “optional” in college applications, we recommend you do them.  This is an exception.  We believe this is really a place for students whose lives were turned upside down in a major way, beyond the inability to go to school and do activities that we all experienced.

The Coalition application asks the question and offers a space for sharing information a little bit differently – we think it’s a little more direct.  The way they word their COVID-19 essay prompt gives students the opportunity to share to share specific impacts COVID had on them or their family:

We think you should use the Coalition’s question as a guideline for whether or not you should respond to this truly optional prompt.  If you HAVE had a serious impact from COVID, by all means, use this opportunity to share your experience with colleges.  However, it seems much more clearly directed to students who had very negative life changes, not just annoyances.  If none of those situations apply to you, you are probably better off letting those students have their voices heard, and not responding to the COVID-19 essay prompt.

By the way – if you don’t believe our advice, here’s what Tulane University Admissions Director Jeff Schiffman says about this question on his blog, and here’s what Georgia Tech says about the COVID-19 question (in their crossover effort which also references Hamilton – we thought our Hamilton blog post was pretty fun too!).

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