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How to Answer the COVID-19 Question on the Common Application

Last year, the Common Application added an optional, 250-word question about COVID to the Additional Information section of the application. The prompt appears again this year and it reads:

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.

Given that each essay is the chance to add something new and/or positive to your application, we at International College Counselors strongly believe that if the pandemic impacted your life–whether personally or academically–then you should take advantage of this space. With more schools going test-optional and the increase in grade variations over the last couple of years, colleges are giving essays more weight than ever. Answering this question may make your application stand out.

Here are some ways to answer this prompt:

  1. Hardship or Significant Challenge: How COVID impacted you, how you coped, and what you learned.

If you or someone in your immediate family experienced a hardship or significant challenge as a result of COVID, write about the experience. Personal examples may include severe illness, death, job loss, new family responsibilities, food insecurity, or family relocation. Academic examples include high teacher absence or turnover, limited technology access, altered course schedules or offerings, etc. The key is to chase any negatives with positives. Add what you learned from your experience. Add what strategies you used to cope. For example, if your sport was cancelled, how did you continue training?  If a family member lost a job or died, you can say you were strong for the family—or tried to be. This second part allows you to highlight something positive about you, whether it’s responsibility, resilience, grit, initiative, or another positive characteristic (or combination of traits). NOTE: If there was absolutely no positive, then just answer with the challenges or obstacles you faced. Colleges will see by your application submission that you soldiered on, and the essay can help explain any drop in grades.

  1. Time Spent Well: How did you pivot and what did you accomplish or learn?

The word pivot, as it came to be used during the pandemic, means to change direction when you realize something isn’t working. Companies, schools, and many organizations all had to pivot. So, too, did students. Our students told stories of pivoting in the most amazing ways. They learned skills in real life, like woodworking, or took online classes in foreign languages, fine arts, and culinary arts. Some performed online research while others wrote screenplays, coded video games, and contributed to online newspapers. Students started businesses like summer camps, tutoring programs, and online stores. They performed hundreds of hours of community service, including writing letters to seniors, providing virtual concerts, increasing their activism, and starting global programs. If you did something meaningful for yourself, your family, your community, or for a cause, write about it. Make sure you include why you chose the activity you did and what it meant to you.

  1. Personal Gain: What you learned about yourself.

Some people experienced both negatives and positives. Maybe your world didn’t change too much. However, even if COVID didn’t impact you in a huge way, consider what you learned about yourself during this time. How did you grow personally, spiritually, or intellectually? What values did you gain? Did COVID make you feel differently about your future? Perhaps you wanted to be an architect and now want to be a doctor. Perhaps you took the time to understand more about your culture or family. The space allows you to be reflective and vulnerable.


If COVID did not significantly impact you, do not feel obligated to answer this supplemental writing prompt. Colleges don’t need you to add that you were only slightly inconvenienced and were thrilled with the extra time to play video games or scroll through TikTok.

Colleges know that your school year was different with classes being held online and extracurriculars being postponed or cancelled. What might bump up your application is if this essay shows: 1) you did something unique and noteworthy with your time; 2) you were impacted significantly and you handled the problems as best as you could; or 3) you experienced personal growth and a new understanding of yourself (NOTE: this last one is part of Common App prompt #5, so do not allow the answers to overlap).

Need help answering the COVID-19 supplement on the Common Application or any other essays on the Common Application? Contact us at International College Counselors. We’re here to support you in navigating this difficult time.


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