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Articles / Applying to College / Should You Write College Essays About COVID-19?

Should You Write College Essays About COVID-19?

Brad Schiller
Written by Brad Schiller | Oct. 5, 2020
Should You Write College Essays About COVID-19?


COVID-19 had a significant impact on many students, and you may be inclined to write about your experiences. This may be a good plan – but not in the way you think.

Prompt believes many students should write about the impact COVID-19 had on them in their applications. However, COVID-19 shouldn't be the focus of your Common App Essay or supplements. Instead, you'll use the 250-word COVID-19 question within the Common App's Additional Information Section.

Below, we will break down the prompt and discuss whether you should write that COVID-19 essay — and if so, how you should do it.

The COVID-19 Prompt

"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. (250 words)"

Breaking down the prompt, there are three primary questions to consider when writing this response:

1. What effects did COVID-19 have on you that led to meaningful changes in your life?

2. How did these changes affect you?

3. What actions did you take as a result of these changes to make your situation better?

Here, we'll explore those three questions in a bit more depth.

1. What effects did COVID-19 have on you?

First, there are family and personal circumstances. These are big things beyond your control that can lead to stress and responsibilities outside of school or voluntary activities. It could be a family member losing employment. It could be financial hardships for your family. It could be a housing disruption. It could be COVID-19-related health issues, newfound responsibilities caring for siblings or family members, or decreased access to technology or time to study.

Second, there are external impacts. These are things you were expecting to do that you are no longer able to do as a result of COVID-19. You may have had activities, summer plans or jobs canceled. Future plans may have been altered.

2. How did these changes affect you?

It's not enough to just describe the pandemic's impact; instead, you need to explain how COVID-19 affected you. For example, the impact could be mental/emotional (changing how you feel about yourself or others), physical (causing health concerns), or situational (changing how you spend your time and energy).

3. What actions did you take to improve your situation?

The actions you took will help prove you will be successful in college and beyond. These actions should ideally tie directly to the five traits colleges look for in applicants: drive, intellectual curiosity, initiative, contribution, and diversity of experiences.

Writing the COVID-19 Essay

Writing about changes to your family and personal circumstances will help your readers understand additional challenges and circumstances in your life that resulted from COVID-19. In these situations, you should write the essay regardless of whether you have a clear answer to "What actions did you take to improve your situation?" The essay will be stronger if you can discuss the actions you took, as your actions can show drive, initiative and contribution. However, taking action is not a necessary component of writing a response related to family and personal circumstances since the content of this essay can improve a reader's overall understanding of your situation.

Writing about an external impact has a higher bar to clear when considering if you should write the COVID-19 essay. You must demonstrate that you took action to better your situation. For example, it's not compelling to merely write about a cool internship you had lined up for the summer and how disappointed you were when you couldn't do it. Instead, you should write about what you were able to do despite disruptions to your plans. For example, maybe you "made" your own internship by finding a problem, learning about it and solving it. Perhaps you engaged in self-learning using EdX courses. Maybe you joined a maker community and started to build drones. Perhaps you learned to code, started writing your own music, improved your skills in something, started a blog, created a YouTube channel or wrote fiction.

Structuring the COVID-19 Essay

You should use a direct approach to writing the COVID-19 essay. Here's a basic outline:

  • Opening: The first one to two sentences should answer the three questions outlined above: Provide an overview of the effects of COVID-19, the impact it had on you, and the actions you took. Doing this will leave the reader with a clear understanding of what you will cover in the essay and why you are writing it (i.e., the reader won't be thinking, "how is this relevant to the student's story?"). Keep this about 25 words.
  • Section 1: You should go into more detail on how COVID-19 affected you. You should keep the focus on yourself. Some word count may be needed to describe why you were in a certain situation (e.g., a parent being unemployed); but most of the word count should focus on how the situation affected you. Use about 75 words.
  • Section 2: You should use the remainder of the word count to discuss the actions you took as a result of the impact of COVID-19. This is the most important part of the essay as it can show your traits that will help prove you'll be successful in college and beyond. Use about 150 words.

Plan Ahead

Always plan your content and create an outline before you begin writing. You'll also likely want to consider the content you're using in your other essays before you write the COVID-19 essay – that way, you avoid overlapping content. You should consider using the free step-by-step tools available by creating an account at Prompt.com to identify what content to use across your college essays.

Attribution: This article was provided by Prompt.com, the world leader in admissions essay coaching and feedback.

Written by

Brad Schiller

Brad Schiller

Essay Expert

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