Optional COVID essay-- to write, or not to write?

Are you advising kids to write the essay? I have gotten 3 very different pieces of advice–

  1. only write it if you can show a very clear impact-- family, health, finances, etc.
  2. every essay is an opportunity for the school to get to know you and that you should write this even if COVID has not negatively impacted your life directly, but perhaps changed the way you think or view the world. For example-- I worked at a coffee shop throughout the pandemic and saw firsthand how my customers changed–more concern, more homeless, etc.
  3. use the space to talk briefly about the fact that you only took the SATs once with no prep and couldn’t improve your scores because the next 3 tests were all cancelled. Offering an explanation of why you are submitting scores on the low end of your schools’ admit numbers.
    As it stand my D21 is doing #3, would you recommend she also do #2?

In most cases I recommend #1.

Why is your D submitting test scores on the low end of the school’s admitted numbers (unless they are not test optional)?

Thanks! It was recommended that she submit the scores because the admissions would take into account her explanation and infer that she would have received higher scores if she were able to retake. Not sure how true this is? 670 math, 740 eng. She is happy with the eng, but not the math.

Now that the ED deadlines have passed it would be interesting to know what % of kids submit scores.

Generally, I wouldn’t submit test scores for schools where the sections and/or composite are below the median of last year’s accepted students (assuming school is test optional).

I do not think AOs are going to do any inferring of information that is non-existent.

It comes down to whether the scores strengthen the app (or not), the major the student is applying for (where required) and if the student has a hook (URM, Pell eligible, athletic recruit, etc.).

I would generally recommend #1.

And, if given an option, I would not send SAT scores unless they are above the 50th percentile for a school.

Like most people said, don’t submit average test scores if your grades/ECs are very good. It will negatively impact your chances. The ideal thing to do is to not include test scores and write the reason in the COVID section (if there is nothing more severe to talk about).

Number 3 is an excuse. Don’t do it. Number 1 or leave it alone. It also depends on the school. You want to keep it positive. So… “even though we took classes online or at home or hybrid, and it was challenging, I was able to maintain my grades”…sorta thing

Agree with everyone else to choose 1. Choosing 2 is tempting but admissions officers already have too much to read.

I like #2. It gives you a chance to expand on some of the traits they look for. But not just telling what you observed. Get yourself into some of that action, “show” what you did, a light touch, more thoughtful than braggy. Why not a positive arc (as expressed in OP’s example?)

We really don’t know how the covid essay will be viewed, since it’s the first time. If everyone takes the attitude you have to tell a tale of woe and sad enduring, I think it misses the chance to add value.

I know it’s tough. But I can imagine it would be refreshing to see something beyond the raw challenges.

As for scores, let the GC say he or she feels another shot would have gained improvements. Don’t even think of telling them you did no prep.

Fundamentally you have to listen to what the AOs of each school are communicating about the covid question. So do those virtual information sessions, or do a Q&A session with your AO (if offered), and ask that question.

I have heard a number of AOs say to do #1…complete the covid essay only if there were truly tough conditions, e.g., family death/sickness due to covid, trying to study at home with 8 siblings in a small apartment, no wifi, had to take care of siblings while mom/dad worked, etc.

I also have heard some AOs say #2 would be ok.

IMO, I would want to know what the stance of each college is on this question, and submit my application accordingly. Doing the research and gaining insights to the admission process at a given school can give an applicant an advantage. Obviously, you don’t want to send a covid essay like #2 to an AO who clearly states in their info sessions to only answer that in extreme cases.

I’ll restate my thought that #1 should be the only reason for writing anything in the covid space on the application. And there needs to be a reason to complete this optional question. Being adversely affected by covid is reality for almost every student applying. CA added this question because they knew that otherwise, every applicant would write about it. The question is there to explain extenuating circumstances.

The covid question is not like “optional/recommended” essays colleges often request. It doesn’t have to be completed. If a student fills it in, it needs to be something worth reading that will add context to the application.

I think it goes without saying that every hs student is suffering from the current schooling issues and family strains. The point of the covid essay, imo, isn’t to throw your hat into this same ring, but to show you overcame. “Triumphed, despite.” And that’s more than the parent was furloughed, you couldn’t get test dates, it was oh-so-hard to keep at the work, but hey, my grades were stable. What do they learn from that? That you can tread water?

Granted, I’m talking highly competitive colleges. They want better than treading water. But the fact of covid and a covid-related prompt doesn’t mean they’re somehow shifting away from holistic and the particular strengths and traits they value and look for. There are very few “extenuating circumstances” (that undo performance issues) when it comes to the fierce competition. It’s not suddenly. “Oh, poor dear, we’ll forgive the non-A grades.”

Adcoms are remarkably savvy about what goes on with hs kids. They’re dealing with thousands of them, each year. If you’re targeting schools that give a hoot about who you are as a thinking, acting individual, show some thoughtful qualities. I do believe that includes expanding your thinking about this prompt.

And not all poorer kids have lots of siblings,a small living space, and overwhelming family responsibilities. Besides, that won’t get you into a top college, without other evidence of excellence, on all fronts.

Very good point re: understanding each AO individually. The Pomona session actually said to consider it in a very creative way i.e., what did you learn? That is what set me down this path of thinking of it as another opportunity to get to know the student. But I get it, if that’s not what the school is after, then it’s a bad idea.
Can you decide on the common app which schools receive the essay?

Your daughter can just copy and paste in her response each time she submits an app.

ETA: Jeff Selingo, an author who writes about higher education, says that AOs he has spoken with would rather that students leave the question blank, barring extenuating circumstances.

Having an optional COVID essay space is brilliant. You know AOs don’t want to read about COVID impact on every other application they review. Now they can confine the COVID travails, and not even read that section, lol.