COVID OPTIONAL ESSAY - mental health questions, to do or not?

One of the optional essays asks about MH problems during COVID. Is it really a good idea to answer truthfully. S22 had pretty severe depression/anxiety during COVID (partly but not entirely related to the pandemic) and tanked his GPA that year. Is this one of this things where they act like they won’t view it as a negative, but in the end it is not a good idea to say this? Tx

I recently read “Soundbite” by Sara Harberson, and I’m pretty sure she says not to include anything in your applications that indicates that you have MH or learning issues, even if you have worked through them. Technically schools are not supposed to discriminate, but her opinion (as a former AO) is that they definitely do.

I have no evidence to support this, but I suspect that AOs are going to be favoring for the kids who found ways to keep themselves afloat and moving forward, even if slowly, without sinking, so that’s the impression I’d try to give unless the question asks very specifically about mental health. It was an unusual circumstance and I firmly believe it shouldn’t reflect poorly on any kid if they ended up depressed, but I also believe it’s not a bad idea to keep that information somewhat private.

If there are other problems your S encountered (loss of ECs, loss of contact with extended family, missed family traditions like an annual reunion, missed summer opportunities he was really looking forward to), I would focus on how he solved those problems or found other things to fill the time/keep him busy instead. Others here, however, may have different opinions about including true MH issues with good reasons, so I’m not 100% set on this; just 99% at this point in time.


I lean towards not addressing it. What do you mean by ‘tanked his GPA’ (to what degree)?


3.9 freshman year, 3.74 sophomore and 3.0 junior year (not only due to pandemic and depression but also transferred to a prep school where rigor and volume of work were much harder and for which he wasn’t fully prepared. But COvid and being quarantined repeatedly didn’t help) @Mwfan1921

Is he going to register with the disabilities office for accommodations.

I would be honest and maybe also say something about virtual learning not being a good fit or something like that, but don’t make a big deal about it. They will see the grade drop. Better to be honest and it also provides some explanation for the grades.

Most people have had mental health issues in response to COVID. Doesn’t have to be a lifelong diagnosis. I am not sure I would even believe anyone who said they have been fine throughout.

ps just noticed the “optional” so also an option to skip it, but again, many experienced a grade drop and okay to answer if it does not portend similar struggles at college


I agree it’s ok to mention virtual learning wasn’t a good fit and resulted in lower grades than historical…no need to talk about a diagnosis. Short and sweet, not a 500 word essay.

FWIW, HS GPAs are down across the board (based on anecdotal feedback from HS GCs). You might also have your S’s HS GC mention the drop in grades too, due to a struggle with the pandemic and virtual learning.


Thanks @compmom. I think he will register with the disability Things are better and he improved over the course of the year — hopefully this will put him in better shape for college, but can’t say for sure of course.

I doubt that admissions and the disabilities office have any communication after the fact (disability info is confidential) but still I think either an honest but matter of fact answer or just skip it.

Accommodations can be really helpful. Also I suggest tuition refund insurance.


Not sure I would go down the mental health route - but it’s obvious his GPA went down and I think it’s ok to talk about distance learning, or the inconsistency of quarantine, etc. had its effects.


If it’s optional then skip it. This was the advice somewhere. Have his counselor explain the slip in grades. Keep the application positive. The Junior year will hurt him so have an outstanding senior year. Those grades count…


Thanks @tsbna44 and @Knowsstuff. Appreciate the advice.

One registers for accommodations after one has been accepted. It doesn’t influence admissions because it doesn’t happen until after acceptance and sending in a deposit.

Don’t mention depression or anxiety or any other mental illness. Student health is already overflowing with students with mental health issues, and believe me, the schools don’t want more. It would adversely affect applications.


Schools do not discriminate but want to see that you can do the work. It is nothing to be ashamed of and if you have overcome problems, it shows resilience. Something like 50% of Harvard students seek mental health help.

I personally think that most everyone has had a mental health impact from COVID.

But no need to answer an optional question unless it helps you in some way.



Covid threw lots of kids. Change of school to a more rigorous school dings many kids. This story can be told as one of resilience just as easily: Student changes to a more rigorous new school (hard) in the middle of HS (harder) just as the world gets hit with Covid (hardest), grades take a hit- and within a term are coming back up (good) and within 2 terms are strong (great).

Tbh, from this distance it is hard to imagine a student navigating all of this who didn’t struggle. Obviously, if it was severe / if it is an aggravation of pre-existing issues / etc that do not seem to have resolved then as the poster above noted, getting in touch with the appropriate offices wherever he ends up enrolling, and taking the tuition insurance plan are a good idea.

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Thanks @compmom and @collegemom3717

The resilience angle is good and true. It looks like a disaster on the transcript, but in reality he worked harder than ever and learned a lot and made new friends. That took a whole lot more than getting an 3.8 at his previous school, which is a well regarded public school.

Where would you put this information? Would you make it the main personal essay (I was hoping he could do something more positive), on the optional COVId part (but there are far more compelling and heartbreaking stories than this). Or somewhere else?


I think the supplementary essay can be useful for giving admissions information that they don’t have in the rest of the application. And it can be very short and straightforward. One of mine wrote about a health condition and it was only a few lines. He didn’t want to write the main essay on it, because it doesn’t define him, but it explained a few things on the transcript.


If it is an ‘elite’ school, he has a college counselor who knows how to do this. A couple of lines about the challenges of transferring into a more rigorous school in Grade 11 during a pandemic (noting the recovery in marks and the positive elements that they have seen in him) in an LoR can do a lot.


If you choose to address it I would do so in the covid essay (use the additional info section for something else), and keep it short and sweet. Have the HS GC address it in their LoR too, and get their advice on the student addressing it in the covid essay.

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I concur!

I don’t think it’s a bad option, as long as you don’t overdo it or overdramatise it. It would make a very interesting addition, in my opinion. I would personally write.