The Common Application has just announced that it will add an optional COVID-19 essay question for the 2020-2021 application.

This global pandemic has affected everyone in different ways, and now students will have 250 words to express their unique personal experiences to the readers of their applications.

What is the new prompt?

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.

Often, with optional essay prompts, there is a sense of obligation on the part of students to have something, anything, really, to say, compounded with an unease that leaving an optional prompt blank will put a student at a disadvantage in the application process. This prompt, however, should be used wisely, and sparingly. At we are well prepared to help you with this as well as all aspects of your application.

Should this change how I write my main Common App Essay?

One benefit of the COVID-themed essay prompt is that students can avoid using their main Common App essays to discuss some of the secondary or tertiary repercussions of the disease on their lives.

Instead, the main essay should focus on aspects of your life, and experience, reaching far beyond the last few months and the difficult changes we have all encountered. What were you mulling about as an essay topic pre-COVID? What would you like the reader of your application to know about you that will not necessarily be captured in other parts of your application? Keep these questions in mind as you fine-tune your main Common Application essay.

Is an optional prompt really optional?

Not only is this prompt absolutely optional, but it should also be used wisely.

Remember, everyone has suffered and struggled to some degree with either this unprecedented pandemic or its fall out, so this space should be used only by students who have had their lives significantly impacted or disrupted by COVID-19.

Students have lost out on sports seasons, a whole range of extra-curricular, academic, and social opportunities. Colleges know this and understand that students will not be presenting with as robust a profile as they may have wished given the limitations placed on their opportunities. It is personal experiences beyond that, however, that the colleges would really like to hear about as they evaluate your application.

Please read the text of the optional prompt carefully. If those questions resonate with you, and accurately reflect ways in which you and/or your family have been affected, please let the colleges know so. Help the colleges understand the ways in which you have been impacted by the pandemic, especially if the consequences have dramatically changed your family or personal circumstances.

If you have any doubt about whether or not this optional prompt is for you, please consult with a Admissions Expert, and we will help you make the right decision!