Advice for Answering Optional COVID related College Application Essay Questions

To borrow the immortal words of Thomas Jefferson, “Prudence, indeed, will dictate…” any student’s choice to share their personal COVID-colored experiences. In an informal query of admissions officers around the United States from highly selective to not-so-selective universities, the consensus is be judicious, if choosing to share a COVID-related experience. 

Most admissions officers advise students to consider if the COVID-related experience was “exceptional” or “extraordinary circumstances beyond their control”. 

One admissions officer shared:

highlight how it [COVID/pandemic experience] has impacted any areas in their application

Thus, prudent applicants who don’t have a material effect on their application, like a noticeable drop in grades or a chronic health condition from long COVID, have little reason to utilize the optional COVID essay box. 

And, while many parents lost a job due to COVID related economic circumstances, and not to downplay such hardship, unless a student needed to get their own job to supplement the family’s loss in income or their entire extracurricular commitments stopped due to a lack of funding, a student may want to seriously consider whether to write more about their family circumstances. 

One admissions officer at a highly selective private university even went as far as to say: 

Students should not feel obligated to fill out the essay…there is by no means an expectation students would write an essay if they don’t feel they have something to share. 

It is genuinely optional. 

(Bold and italicized emphasis is the admissions officer’s)

Thus, admissions officer’s words are an antidote to counter any student’s belief they MUST fill out every box in order to have the advantage over another applicant, like they’ve been trained to do in the competitive modern academic meritocracy

A colleague on the opposite coast, working for a selective flagship public university even went as far to say: 

We are expecting to see LESS information related to COVID-19 in this year’s applicant pool. It’s not going to give any applicant an advantage or disadvantage in the reading process…

(All caps and bold is the how the admissions officer’s work)

Prudent students would be wise to heed the above admissions officer’s advice.

From another perspective, the admissions officer may be warning that fanatically filling out the optional COVID-related essay, without serious forethought, may actually indicate a student who’s “trying too hard”, thus casting doubts about their candidacy.

Creative Marbles was founded by teachers who appreciate helping students craft insightful essays, first in the academic classroom, now as part of the complex college admissions process. For more information, please contact us

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

About Jill Yoshikawa, Ed M, Partner of Creative Marbles Consultancy

Jill Yoshikawa, EdM, Harvard ’99, a seasoned, 25 year educator and consultant, is meticulous in helping clients navigate all aspects of the educational experience, no matter the level of complexity. She combines educational theory with experience to advise families, schools and educators. A UCSD and Harvard graduate, as well as a former high school teacher, Jill works tirelessly to help her clients succeed.
View all posts by Jill Yoshikawa, Ed M, Partner of Creative Marbles Consultancy →