Writing an essay in the time of COVID

I read recently that we are all weathering the same storm, but doing it in different boats. Like many other parents I’m juggling working full-time remotely, helping my kids do remote learning, navigating how to feed and supply us when I don’t want to get exposed to the virus by shopping. I’m lucky. No one close to me has gotten sick, or died. I have friends and family who have lost jobs. I worry about my healthcare worker friends. But all in all, I have weather this storm in a very secure boat. And for that I am grateful.

Most teenagers will feel it makes sense to write above Covid in their college essays. Its been a defining life event for many of you. Global pandemics don’t happen very often (and lets pray never again). You missed out on seeing friends, sports seasons, spring musicals and concerts. You had to learn quadratic equations via zoom and will take AP exams at home. It is different from your norm. But its different from everyone’s norm. So everyone will probably write about it.

I remember reading application essays about September 11th. 9-11 was very personal for me. I grew up on Staten Island, NY–part of New York City. My father and brother both worked in lower Manhattan when the towers were hit. Staten Island is home to more fire fighters and police than other parts of the city. I lost friends that day that I learned about immediately. Social media wasn’t around yet. As I talked to friends and family (on an actual phone or via email), I learned of people from all stages of my life who were killed. It went on for weeks, months, even years as friends have contracted health issues related to working at ground zero. It was hard for me to read essays about 9-11, unless they were thoughtful. Students didn’t have to know someone who was killed for the attacks to have impacted them. But they had to reflect on what changed in them, our nation, the world that day.

You likely won’t know the person reading your essay. You won’t know how Covid impacted them or their family. You won’t know if they typically read 100 essays or 1000 essays. But you want yours to be honest, reflective of your situation and heartfelt. The person reading your essay wants to know more about you than your transcript and test scores show. They want to be able to picture you in class adding value to that day’s discussion. They want to confidentially know that you will be able to take college level material, read it, analyze it, and synthesize your thoughts into a meaningful piece professors will value. They want to have a sense of the personality you will bring to campus and how you will contribute.

Instead of talking about how you binged the entire Tiger King documentary in one day, discuss how Americans needed a distraction so badly they choose that one. Discuss feeling a lack of safety for the first time in your life. Discuss what was the same and what changed when the world was able to resume. Be vulnerable and share your true thoughts. When admission counselors are heating up their lunch or grabbing coffee in the break room you want them to say “I was so tired of reading essays about Covid until I came across this one”. And you want that one to be yours.

Published by Kate Coffman

Kate has worked in admissions, financial aid, college and career readiness for over twenty years. She most recently served as the Vice President and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Franklin College. Kate has also worked in admissions at Butler University and Indiana University. Kate has presented at numerous schools and conferences helping families, educators and those who work with youth understand how to be college and career ready, how to apply to college and how to afford their education.

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