College Application Essays: How to write about COVID-19

College Application Essays: How to write about COVID-19

In the year of COVID-19, there is not one person who can say that they have not been affected by the pandemic. For that reason, you are probably contemplating about whether it is a good idea to write about your experience for your college application essay. And if you do write about it, how should you do it?

Should I Do it?

This year, I predict that there will be just as many COVID-related Common Application personal statements as there have been on the immigrant story, community service mission trips, and the hyphenated (-American) identity in previous years. For this reason, we advise that unless you are able to make the story truly unique and truly yours, you should steer away from the COVID story.

However, if COVID has affected you in a way that is unique to you and the pandemic has been a formative experience for you, then I say, go for it.

Below are some angles you may want to take to the COVID story that will make your essay about you, and not about the worldwide pandemic.

  • Unique COVID-related challenges/lessons
  • Healed relationships with family members due to quarantine
  • Stepping up to new responsibilities due to financial or other circumstances within the family
  • New ventures during the pandemic that are aimed toward COVID-related difficulties within your community

 

All in all, you want to write about a topic that will say something about you. The COVID-19 pandemic is a worldwide event that has demanded varying levels of maturity from young adults–especially high school students. Unless your essay will reveal your maturity and character development, then it is not something that is worth writing about at the risk of being trite.

Before deciding to write about COVID, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why do I want to write about this topic? Is there any other topic that will show my maturity, passions, or character in a better way?
  • What do I want to say about myself? 
  • Does the message go beyond the limits of COVID, or is it a lesson or message that only applies to COVID?

How Do I Do It?

So you’ve decided to write about COVID. Now how do you make this essay into the best essay possible?

Every good essay starts with a solid outline.

The Beginning

Give the reader a window into what you want to write about by providing an anecdote.

Let’s use this topic as an example: your older brother moved back in and the stress of the close quarters, mixed with the stress of your next exam, manifested itself as a petty fight over the last ice cream bar.

“‘I WAS SAVING THAT FOR LATER!’ I bellowed at my older brother, who was nonchalantly munching at the last Haagen-Dazs vanilla milk chocolate almond ice cream bar. The ice cream bar I was saving for after I had finished studying for my Multivariable Calculus exam tomorrow. The only thing I was look forward to all day.”

You get the idea. Be specific and detailed, and set the tone with your adjectives. Paint a picture.

The Snapshot

Bring your reader into the significance of your anecdote. Why are you talking about this event, other than for the purpose of catching the reader’s attention?

Let’s use the same example:

“With the COVID-19 pandemic in full force, my brother had moved back home from his college dorm, and the apartment that used to be big enough for the four of us suddenly felt like a chicken coop. We had grown out of our childhood spaces once he had gone off to college. Now, I felt as if we were bumping shoulders at every turn. It didn’t help that both of my parents had started working from home. Our formerly cozy little home turned into a claustrophobic prison cell.”

The beginning of the essay may be something that is familiar with the audience. After the beginning, the snapshot needs to give the reader an idea about why this event is significant. 

The writer will go on to discuss her lukewarm relationship with her brother and the frustrations that she has had with him. But she will go on to a realization about their relationship and how they overcome their differences.

The Turn-Around

Now how did you overcome the circumstances that you are discussing in your essay? What was your realization? When did you sense your character development or the need to be a more mature person?

Here’s more from the above example:

“The two of us sat quietly on the couch, mindlessly watching a string of infomercials and choking on the tension in the air. Too stubborn to admit defeat to the mind-numbing tension, neither of us moved an inch. Not able to handle the tension, I mustered up all of the courage in every fiber of my body to say something. Anything.

‘Don’t you think Dad sounds so obnoxious on Zoom?’ I asked, followed by an awkward chuckle.

He looked at me in surprise and quietly replied, ‘Yeah… I guess… I never knew he was a ‘Let’s put a pin in it’ guy.’ It was true–my dad’s corporate language was, at times, jarring to hear.

Our conversation was awkward and slightly painful at first, but once the wheels started turning, we delved deeper than we had ever dared to venture. We talked about my brother’s worries and concerns, my goals and aspirations, our parents’ quirks and small annoyances.”

The turn-around is the point in which the story becomes about development. Revelations are rarely ever random epiphanies. There is a scene that needs to be set to paint the full picture of why you became the person you are today.

The End

This is the most important part. Why are we talking about any of this? How is this story proving that you are a person that your dream school wants on their campus?

See an excerpt from our example above:

“Eventually, one conversation turned into two, and we started chatting whenever we got the chance. We went beyond mending a relationship–we created a new, healthy one where neither of us were afraid to lean on one another….In trying to win each small battle against emotional vulnerability, we were losing the war for a healthy relationship. Little did I know that once I took just one baby step back, we would both win the war.”

In bringing the story into a larger context, the essay is no longer about COVID, but about a healed relationship and a moment of clarity. However, the COVID factor cannot be ignored: it was the catalyst for change, as it forced the writer and her brother to be in this awkward situation.

Putting It All Together

When writing about anything that happened since March 2020, it is impossible to leave COVID out of the discussion. But just keep in mind that you need to keep the focus on you. You are the person that the admissions reader wants to learn about, so you need to be the main character of your personal statement. Let COVID be a supporting role.

Show colleges how mature you are, but also how mature you can become in the years to come. Show them that even a pandemic will not deter you from becoming the person you want to be.

For more expert advice on college essay writing, contact us for a consultation. Our essay coaches and I will guide you step-by-step through the writing process and help you craft impressive, polished essays.

Call 855-346-1410 or fill out our contact form here to sign up today.

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Jaehee Ahn

Jaehee Ahn is MEK Review's Assistant Director of Academic Counseling Services and a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley. She is also an alumnus of MEK Review's SAT Prep program. If you have any questions about our College Counseling programs or wish to set up a consultation, you can email Jaehee at acs@mekreview.com.

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