• Dione Chen

How to Tackle the Common App Covid Essay

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the lives and plans of high school students everywhere in so many ways. This year, the Common App 2020-2021 application invites students to write about their experiences in an optional essay of up to 250 words.

How should you approach this question?

Most anyone who has personally experienced hardships and/or grown in meaningful ways as a result of the pandemic can take this opportunity to one, describe how you’ve been affected and two, share how you’ve responded. This second point is especially important because your actions are the essence of this essay, the “so what.” You'll be able to show colleges not only how you’ve respond to both personal and academic challenges this year, but also how likely you are to succeed when faced with challenges, big and small, in college and beyond.

Since 250 words isn’t a lot, it’s key to be concise and specific. I recommend using the STAR (Situation-Task-Action-Result) method of preparing for behavioral interview questions as a useful format for structuring your essay.

Situation: Briefly and specifically describe the circumstances and impact of the pandemic on you personally. Be self-aware. There’s no need to be over-dramatic. Just the facts, please.

Task: So, what did you decide to do about your situation and why? Segue quickly to providing insights about you. Colleges are looking for evidence as to how deal with challenges in college, and assume that your recent history may be the best predictor of your future. Self-reflection alone is not sufficient. So, pull back the curtain and reveal your thoughts, ideas, strategies and objectives in response to challenges.

Action: Then what did you do next? Cut to the chase. Identify specific, concrete steps you took to address the situation. It's not enough to be self-reflective. Colleges seek doers who are resourceful, resilient, creative and compassionate. Your actions, big and small, can say a lot about your values, strengths, and character.

Result: Concrete actions and the results are the crux of this essay. How did your actions lead to personal growth? How did you impact others? Your answer provides the “So what” of this essay -- proof that you are someone who, “when life gives you lemons, make(s) lemonade.”

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: Who shouldn’t write this essay?

A: Well, no one likes a “whiner” or people who are so privileged that they are oblivious to the world outside their bubble. If you haven't been impacted by the pandemic much and/or aren’t inclined to help yourself or others who have been negatively impacted, then it may be wise to pass on this optional essay.

Q: Is it too late to do something that would be “essay worthy”?

A: College admissions aside, it’s always worth taking actions that will lead you to learn, grow and contribute. Don’t worry that you have to be amazing. Adopt a bias to action.

Q: What direction does Common App give about the Covid essay?

A: Here's what the Common App blog says at

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the lives and postsecondary plans for many students. 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.

Next year, on the 2020-2021 application, Common App will provide students who need it with a dedicated space to elaborate on the impact of the pandemic, both personally and academically. We want to provide colleges with the information they need, with the goal of having students answer COVID-19 questions only once while using the rest of the application as they would have before to share their interests and perspectives beyond COVID-19.

Below is the question applicants will see: 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? Y/N

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

The question will be optional and will appear in the Additional Information section of the application. The response length will be limited to 250 words. The question will be accompanied by a more detailed FAQ to help students consider the kinds of impacts they may wish to report, including illness and loss, housing and employment disruptions, and shifting family obligations.

The new language will not replace the current Additional Information question inviting students to discuss circumstances and qualifications not reflected elsewhere in the application. That question, along with its 650 word limit, will remain.

Q: Do students need to explain all the changes that their high school has made because of the pandemic?

A: No. The Common App looks to your school for this information. According to the Common App blog at

Counselors will also find space in their Common App counselor forms to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on their school communities. The following optional question will be located within the School Profile section. Your school may have made adjustments due to community disruptions such as COVID–19 or natural disasters. If you have not already addressed those changes in your uploaded school profile or elsewhere, you can elaborate here. Colleges are especially interested in understanding changes to:

· Grading scales and policies

· Graduation requirements

· Instructional methods

· Schedules and course offerings

· Testing requirements

· Your academic calendar

· Other extenuating circumstances

If you are looking for help on how to tackle the Covid essay, DC Educational Consulting provides creative, knowledgeable strategies and writing coaching.

14 views0 comments