For the second year in a row, the Common App is offering students the option to write a “Covid Essay,” detailing any hardships they’ve experienced as a result of the pandemic. Last year, about 20% of applicants chose to write this optional essay, according to data from the Common App itself. Students from a wide range of demographic backgrounds responded with reflections on how Covid-19 impacted their lives, but students from some regions reported “major community disruption” more than others.
The decision to write the optional Covid essay needs to be made on an individual basis because this essay is truly optional. Take a look at the prompt and our advice below to help guide your decision.
The prompt allows for a 250-word response and reads as follows:
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.
Here’s our advice: While everyone has been affected by the pandemic to some degree, you should only respond to the Covid essay prompt if you’ve been extraordinarily impacted.
There are lots of things that this could mean. Did you or a member of your immediate family become seriously ill with Covid? Was there a serious health issue in your family that couldn’t be addressed because of the Covid crisis? Did a lack of internet access prevent you from attending classes online? Did you begin working to supplement your family’s income after a parent lost their job? These are all examples of the kind of life-altering circumstances that would merit a written explanation.
Universities want to understand applicants’ experience, which is why they’re asking the question. But unless you truly experienced hardships beyond the expected (boredom, social isolation, missing going to events), there’s no need for you to respond to this prompt. If you do opt to write the Covid essay, use the space to talk about the challenges you faced, how they affected you, and what you learned. If you can use the essay to shed light on something else in your application, such as a pause in extracurricular activities, a dip in grades, or low (or altogether missing) test scores, then by all means, tell your story! And in the event that you need more than 250 words to explain your experience, the Common App includes an “Additional Information” section, where you can tell admissions committees whatever else you feel they need to know with up to 650 additional words.
Between the optional Covid essay and the Additional Information section, you should have enough room to convey how Covid impacted you and what you learned from the experience. We don’t recommend writing your main personal statement about Covid, for the simple reason that there are places set aside for this topic. Instead, use the personal statement to reveal something about yourself that isn’t conveyed on other parts of the application. The main essay is your chance to breathe life into your application by talking directly to admissions officers about your interests, values, and personality.
Tailored advice on your applications, including essay support, is available through our services at Expert Admissions.
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