Understanding the Common App COVID question

The Common App has added optional COVID-related writing sections for students and their school counselors to allow them to share with colleges and universities how they have been affected by the pandemic.

The addition of the questions is clearly designed to provide a separate space other than general essay sections for students to write about their COVID experience. Note what Jenny Rickard, President & CEO of the Common App, says, “The goal is to have a central place for students and counselors to describe their experiences due to COVID-19 only once while providing colleges and universities the information they need to understand each student’s unique context.”

Here’s how the student prompt reads:

student wearing mask for COVIDCommunity 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.

Student responses will be limited to 250 words.


Should you answer the Common App COVID question?

Admission officers, who are living through the pandemic themselves, understand that every high school student was disrupted by COVID. The key consideration with the question is to focus on whether the disruption negatively impacted what appears on your transcript, or if it impacted you in a meaningfully personal way.

If either is true, the new question is an excellent opportunity for you to share. You only have 250 words, so get right to the point and focus on how the changes impacted you, as opposed to your family or friends.


Question for school counselors

Students should also be aware of what is being asked in the section for school counselors. We recommend you ask your counselor for a copy of his or her response so you can understand what is being communicated and ensure you are not using up any of your limited space by repeating the same information.

Here is the counselor prompt:

Your school may have made adjustments due to community disruptions such as COVID–19 or natural disasters. If you have not already addressed those changes in your uploaded school profile or elsewhere, you can elaborate here. Colleges are especially interested in understanding changes to:

  • Grading scales and policies
  • Graduation requirements
  • Instructional methods
  • Schedules and course offerings
  • Testing requirements
  • Your academic calendar
  • Other extenuating circumstances

Your students will have a similar space in their application to share how these events have affected them personally.

Counselors will have a 500 word limit and will provide the information once, to be used for all their students.


College Inside Track conducts workshops and individual strategy meetings for students to help navigate the Common Application and ensure you put your best foot forward. Contact us to schedule a hour’s worth of free advice.