College Applications During COVID-19
Updated: Jun 7
The class of 2021 is facing unprecedented college application challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic, in addition to the usual sources of stress during the application process.
COVID-19’s social distancing, social gathering, and travel restrictions have halted college visits, tours, and fairs, as well as plans for summer/part-time jobs, internships, camp experiences, sports, extracurricular activities, and volunteerism.
On top of this, many adolescents and their families are weathering COVID-19-related financial, social, and emotional hardships that have spiked increases in anxiety, depression, and other behavioral health issues.
How Can Students Keep Current on College Application Changes?
Learning how COVID-19 has impacted college admissions empowers students to put their best application forward while alleviating stress. As we know, coronavirus-related information can be area-specific and changes frequently, so make sure you check with specific colleges to stay in the know while working on your application.
A good way to remain up-to-date is to follow colleges’ blog posts and social media sites. You can also reference the Common Application (www.commonapp.org) and the Coalition for College application (www.coalitionforcollegeaccess.org/), the top two online college application platforms. Both have added an optional, shorter-response question for students to share how COVID-19 has impacted them personally and/or academically.
Since the pandemic is addressed as its own prompt, avoid making it the main focus elsewhere in your application; share about the pandemic’s effect on you personally and/or academically, but also illustrate how you were innovative, resilient, and positively moving forward despite coronavirus’s challenges.
How Has COVID-19 Impacted College Applications? How Can Students Respond?
Some of the information below is based on Making Caring Communities Project’s Care Counts in Crisis: College Admissions Deans Respond to COVID-19, released June 2020 to help ease the stress of finishing high school strongly and applying to colleges during the pandemic.
At the top of its list, this resource reminds students that self-care is an important priority for them during the current times of crisis and uncertainty.
Some high schools implemented “pass/fail” rather than grades, but colleges will consider academic performance before and after COVID-19 and view grades in the context of what is happening personally and/or academically due to pandemic-related obstacles.
Some colleges have waived SAT/ACT testing requirements; make sure you check this requirement for each school that interests you. It is recommended that students still prepare for the SAT and ACT, as strong test scores can make an applicant stand out,. Also, some sites have resumed test administration. Khan Academy (https://www.khanacademy.org/sat), in partnership with College Board, offers free SAT test preparation, registration information, and COVID-19-related test updates; for similar ACT resources, visit act.org.
Colleges will be paying attention to how you proactively assist others and your community during the tough times of COVID-19 (before and after as well); your service efforts may be directly related to the pandemic or other societal needs.
It is not impressive to grow a lengthy list of volunteer experiences that do not have personal meaning or do not come from a genuine place of interest in helping others.
If you have a unique, long-standing, or life-changing experience as a volunteer, it might make for a good application essay topic. Just avoid an essay focused on the pandemic; many students’ applications will revolve around this, and some applications present a separate question on COVID-19. A solid application essay shares a unique story (remember, show, don’t tell) that reveals personal growth, life lessons, and future impact.
Summer jobs, internships, special interest camps, studying abroad, sports, band participation, and other extracurricular activities have been greatly affected by coronavirus’s social distancing and travel restrictions. Try to take advantage of online or socially-distanced opportunities, tell about what distinctive experiences you had during COVID-19, and include what you were doing prior to the pandemic. Be sure to indicate what you plan to do in the future when things return to normal, whether it be a new interest rooted in personal development or something you have always enjoyed.
Caring for a sick family member, working to contribute to the family’s financial well-being, or family dedication beyond the pandemic say a lot about someone’s values, character, and dedication to others. This can also make for a good application essay topic—as long as you are unique with your experience, able to include personal growth, and do not overly focus on COVID-19.
All About Writing is here to assist with the entire college application essay process, including brainstorming, idea selection, prompt alignment, detailed content development, content analysis, organization and a final proofreading.