Optional COVID-19 question on Common App: to do or not?

I am leaning toward no, but would appreciate advice, as my son (’23) is starting his essays soon. I’m also curious to hear other folks’ reasons for answering or not answering this optional question now that we are a couple years in.

If he does the optional COVID question it would say something brief like,

“Due to several health issues, I attended school virtually during my sophomore year while the vast majority of my classmates were in-person. I was hospitalized twice in 2020, once for a major surgery with an extensive recovery and once for an emergency. Because of this, I was not able to participate in the extracurricular activities I normally would have pursued.”

The only reason he’s considering it is to provide some context for why his ECs are lackluster.

Covid happened at the end of his freshman year. His main EC for that year got canceled right after they swept regionals and were about to make it to nationals (as his school has done every year for the past 25+ years). There was no tournament in 2020. He medaled at nationals in 7th grade, so 9th grade state/nationals getting cancelled was a real bummer. That’s not the main issue though.

The main issue is that he has some health problems that led us to keep him from home from school his sophomore year. It just wasn’t safe for him to risk getting COVID before he was able to be vaccinated. He was mostly healthy, and there was nothing preventing him from going except for his elevated risk. His school offered a remote option, synchronous with the in-person classes, and he and a very small group of his classmates did that all year.

He worked really hard and got all A’s, even in his AP physics class where the camera was aimed at the ceiling and the teacher posted almost nothing online. He technically could have done some sort of ECs, but he’s not athletic, and he only left the house to go to the doctor or on a walk. He couldn’t safely be around other people inside. We didn’t protest when he wasn’t interested in doing any of the ECs that he could have possibly zoomed in for. Everything just felt too hard. I sobbed in relief when he got his first shot near the end of the 2021 school year.

I know most kids had a super hard year, and I don’t think he is really unique amongst kids nationwide. That’s why I’m leaning toward not doing the question. But I don’t want his total absence of ECs (except one small hobby) for sophomore year to cause problems. It really took the wind out of his sails, as he was planning on doing jazz band and several academic teams, and his enthusiasm has not fully recovered due to the world (understandably) moving on without him. I doubt that a guidance counselor would offer anything helpful about this stuff in their letter. We had to twist his arm a bit once it was time to rejoin society last summer, but he’s enjoyed what he’s done this year.

This year he went in-person to school with everyone else, and did academic superbowl (team captain, they did okay), but not science olympiad. His only other school ECs are band and a language club. He is working this summer. He’ll do the same ECs next year, maybe one more. So, yeah, not that great. He has SAT 1500 and a 4.0UW, and is not applying to highly selective schools, as the reach-iest ones are Case Western and Purdue (engineering).

So, will it be best to skip the COVID question, or will it provide useful context without sounding whiny? He should be fine regardless, I think. Also, if he includes it, should he specify that his emergency hospitalization was for a hypertensive crisis? It is horrible that there is stigma, and I wish it wasn’t the case, but I don’t want there to be any ambiguity and have them think it was for a mental health emergency. Thanks for any advice.

What IS the COVID question??

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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. For more information, check out our COVID-19 FAQ.

Do you wish to share anything on this topic?*

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From the Common App website

“Below is the full set of essay prompts for 2022-2023. We will also retain the optional COVID-19 question within the Additional Information section.”

The link takes you a page that says:

COVID-19 has affected students in dramatically different ways. If you need it, the COVID-19 and natural disaster question in the Additional Information section is a place for you to describe the impact of these events.

The question is not intended to be an extra essay. There’s also no need to describe how your school responded to these events. Your counselor will have an opportunity to discuss impacts like closures, online instruction, and grading policies. Instead, consider how these events may have impacted you, your family, and your learning environment. Examples might include:

  • Illness or loss within your family or support network
  • Employment or housing disruptions within your family
  • Food insecurity
  • Toll on mental and emotional health
  • New obligations such as part-time work or care for siblings or family members
  • Availability of computer or internet access required to continue your studies
  • Access to a safe and quiet study space
  • A new direction for your major or career interests

I think this brief answer is appropriate. I would personally include it in the application.

(PS. If you have any specific Purdue engineering questions I would be happy to help. My D is a senior co-op student at Purdue in chemical engineering).


I think the statement as you shared above is fine. I would include it. And no, it’s no one’s business why he was hospitalized.


This is plenty of fine ECs, and AOs know that competitions of all types weren’t happening in 2020. Make sure his job this summer is included in his Common App Activities section.

I agree with the others above that he write a few sentences in the covid question section, short, sweet to the point. Just the facts. I also wouldn’t specify why hospitalized. Good luck.


As the others are saying, short and to the point. I believe every section can be used to highlight your child.

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Thanks for the advice, everyone. I think he will include something very similar to what I stated in the original post. I appreciate the perspectives.

Thank you! I might take you up on that indeed. I have read many of your very helpful posts :slight_smile: