The Common Application opened up for the 2020-2021 school year on August 1st. This one-stop application streamlines the college application process, allowing students to use a general form to apply to nearly 900 colleges and universities. One of the most essential elements of the Common App is the personal essay, where students craft thoughtful responses to one of seven essay questions. But this year it introduces a new free-response section for students (and their school counselors) to describe how the coronavirus pandemic has affected them and their education.
The COVID-19 Question on the Common App is an optional free-response section limited to 250 words, and appears in the “Additional Information” section of the application. The aim of this section is to “reduce anxiety” for students affected by the pandemic and to give them an official space to “share their experience with colleges and universities,” according to the Common App website. To that end, an FAQ section will accompany the Common App COVID-19 Question with prompts for students to consider the issues they’d like to report, such as loss of employment or housing, or increased family responsibilities.
Alongside a response for students, school counselors will also get a chance to add to their students’ applications a section on how the coronavirus impacted their high school. Counselors are asked to report specially on changes in grading scales, graduation requirements and instructional methods, among other topics. When reviewing the students’ and school counselors’ sections, colleges and universities can get a full view of how COVID-19 affected both the micro and macro of the applicant’s previous school year.
So, if the Common App includes a section specifically for COVID-19, should students write about it in their personal essay? It depends. Students should consider how greatly the coronavirus impacted them both in school and in their personal lives. If the pandemic has been overwhelmingly negative, positive or an up-and-down mix of both, then those experiences could make a great essay response. For students whose experience has been “mostly OK,” one of the seven other essay prompts may provide inspiration for a more interesting and impactful college essay.
Unsure on how to begin your Common App? This article outlining the application process can get you started. And while you apply to colleges, make sure to also apply to scholarships and grants that can earn you free money for college tuition. Try a free scholarship search today and discover your customized financial aid opportunities.
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