This year, the Common App is including a special 250-word section allowing students to describe the impacts of COVID-19 on their lives. Here’s the official word from the Common App website: 

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.

It’s worth reading from the Common App website directly, which also notes that counselors will have 500 words to detail impacts that their schools have experienced based on the pandemic. 

Note: If you’re applying via the Coalition Application, you’ll also have an opportunity to add information. Learn the details here. And the advice below will apply!

So should you write about coronavirus?  

On this webinar at the 14:00 mark, I asked Rick Clark, Director of Admission at Georgia Tech, this very question. His response: “How could they not!” In other words: You totally have permission to write about this.

But it also kinda’ depends on your pandemic experience. 

Which of the following best describes what the pandemic has been like for you? 

  1. It’s been okay. Online school wasn’t as good as real school, but I adapted, played video games maybe a little more than usual (so my sleeping schedule was weird), and hung out with my family a little more. TBH, though, things haven’t changed (or didn’t change) too much for me.

  2. Very negative. Coronavirus rocked my world—and not in a good way. The pandemic has led to serious hardships for my family and me. It’s been incredibly stressful, and we’re still living with some uncertainty.

  3. Very positive. And I feel weird saying that because I know so many people have been negatively impacted. But I’ve learned some new things/felt inspired/maybe even started a new project and (maybe even) I’ve even shifted the way I’m thinking about my future! 

  4. It’s been a roller coaster (so 2 and 3). In some ways, it’s been really difficult, but in other ways, it’s been productive, and I’m learning a lot. 

Do a quick self-scan: Which feels most like your experience? 

And if your experience has been way too complex to fit into one of these (admittedly) overly-simplistic and reductive categories, read on. 

But based on these broad categories, I’d say … 

  • If your life hasn’t changed too much (so A), no need to write about it.

  • If the pandemic has been either very negative (B), very positive (C), or like a roller coaster (D), maybe do write about it. 

The questions are: Where should you write about it in your application, and how?

You’ve got options.