How to Use the Common App COVID-19 Question

Padya Paramita

How to Use the Common App COVID-19 Question

More so than any other time in recent memory, students applying to college this upcoming fall have been impacted significantly due to the Coronavirus outbreak — from the transition to online classes, to disrupted summer plans, and standardized test cancelations. And no matter where you’re applying, at least one of your schools probably uses the Common Application. After receiving feedback from colleges and high school authorities, this online system has introduced the Common App COVID-19 question to give candidates a chance to elaborate on how they were academically and personally affected by the various changes brought by the pandemic.

Since this isn’t a component that has existed in previous years, you might be confused about exactly how this section works and when to use it. To help guide you through ways to take advantage of the Common App COVID-19 question, I have outlined suggestions for possible approaches to your response, things to avoid in your answer, and added some differences between this prompt and the pre-existing additional information question.

The Common App COVID-19 Question Prompt

The Common App COVID-19 question will appear on the 2020-21 version of the portal under the additional information tab. Because colleges know that high schoolers this year have had a very atypical junior spring, they want to learn more about your individual case. The new prompt states:

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.

(250 words maximum)

How to Use the Common App COVID-19 Question

The Common App COVID-19 question speaks for itself. Within 250 words, you have the opportunity to inform colleges whether the Coronavirus outbreak and social distancing protocols affected your health, family life, and learning abilities. Many students will have experienced disrupted testing dates and summer programs or other plans — and that’s okay to unpack those obstacles here if they were significant and unique issues. Keep in mind that this was a global crisis. Testing cancelations occurred for everyone, students across the world coped with online learning, and more. However, If you experienced bigger problems as a result of the pandemic, provide context for your circumstances, whether it’s unemployment or lack of learning resources at home. You might have fallen ill yourself — or had to take on added responsibilities in your family because your parents were sick. Colleges want to know this kind of information so that they can understand the factors affecting your performance and opportunities this past semester.

You may not be sure about exactly how candid you should be in your response. Remember that first and foremost, the prompt has been introduced for your benefit — to provide colleges with a better understanding of how your life was influenced by the crisis. You won’t be harshly judged if you had significant changes to your life and academics. In fact, it’s meant to serve the opposite. If you’re usually a straight-A student whose grades slipped because they had difficulty keeping up with Zoom classes, let colleges know. Or, if your parents might have faced difficulties with their jobs, use this section to expand on that. 

As you think about your response, remember that it is valuable to talk about how you’ve moved forward. If you’re a candidate who has done well even through setbacks — and taken advantage of this time — that can show how you’ve persevered during tough circumstances and made the most out of the hand you’ve been dealt. Be honest in your answer, and if you’ve done well despite the circumstances, admissions officers will certainly make note of it. 

Daniela, an InGenius Prep Graduate Coach from Rice University, discusses the Common App COVID-19 question and how she is helping her students answer it here:

How NOT to Use the Common App COVID-19 Question

Remember that the Common App COVID-19 question is optional. This is because the impact of the pandemic has varied between households and individual students. Think about the bigger picture about how other applicants will talk about their experiences. Many will have experienced significant losses, such as illness or death of loved ones, loss of parents’ jobs, and changes in their living conditions. Others may have learning disabilities that could have made the transition to online learning incredibly difficult.

No matter what, you should make sure that you’re sensitive to others. Of course, everyone has been affected in some way or the other. If your circumstance was less serious, don’t use this space. Colleges will not be expecting every student to use this new component – only utilize it when relevant. Be wary of showing privilege when discussing COVID-19. Certainly do not use this response to talk about how you couldn’t go to your favorite restaurant or spend your summer vacation at the beach!

You should also avoid using this component as an opportunity to elaborate on canceled activities. Again, it’s okay to mention cancelations, but keep perspective and showcase what you did instead.

How is the Common App COVID-19 Question Different from the Additional Information Question?

Since the Common App COVID-19 question appears in the additional information section, you may be confused how it differs from the other prompt that exists in this section. The 650-word additional information question will still be there alongside this new one. The difference between the two lies in the fact that the new box has been added so that students can specifically discuss the impact of the Novel Coronavirus on their education and personal life. 

You can use the bigger additional information question to outline any extenuating circumstance unrelated to COVID-19. For example, if your grades suffered due to an illness a year ago, you would include that information here. Essentially, any relevant context that can help admissions officers understand parts of your application better that was due to non-COVID-19 related causes can go here. But once more, remember that this question should not be used to elaborate on your essays and activity list either! Admissions officers have thousands of pages of reading to get through – respect their time and only include essentials in this section.

The Common App COVID-19 question was introduced by the application system to help colleges get a better sense of the unique and specific ways in which applicants had their lives disrupted as a result of this global pandemic. Use this question to let the schools know whether you had any significant changes to your academic or personal life. The better admissions officers understand your context, the more they’ll be able to get a sense of how you handled the situation. Good luck!  

Schedule a free consultation

to find out how we can help you get accepted.