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Counselor offers tips for submitting college essays

So much has changed about the college application process for high schoolers this year.

Many were unable to take the ACT or SAT, others had to travel to a different state to have access to a testing location, most colleges have now dropped testing requirements and many jobs, extra-curricular activities and sports have been impacted or cancelled.

Now, as students begin to work on their college essays for January application deadlines many are wondering if admissions offices will expect them to address COVID or if addressing it will make their essay similar to everyone else’s and prevent them from standing out.

Collegewise counselor Meredith Graham offers the following tips and advice:

n Most schools moved online or to take-home packets during the pandemic, and a lot of schools changed their grading policies too.

Colleges know this-remember that everyone is going through the pandemic, including admissions officers.

They’ll keep this in mind when reviewing applications.

n Colleges also know that the SAT and ACT tests were canceled for hundreds of thousands of students, and as a result many colleges have gone test optional for this year’s applicants.

If students decide not to submit test scores on their applications, there is no need to explain why.

n Many “typical” activities also look different this year because of the pandemic, and that was largely outside of students’ control.

What colleges would love to know is what students did with the opportunities that were in their control.

The activities section of the application gives students the space to describe how they spent their free time during the quarantine.

n COVID-19 affected everyone in the world, and, at the same time, no one experienced it precisely the same way.

Students can write about COVID in their personal statement, but they just need to be sure to follow the rules of a good college essay: make sure that the essay is detailed enough that the student’s unique experience is really clear, and that it’s written in the student’s own voice.

n Beyond the personal statement, there is space on applications where students can share how COVID-19 impacted them.

Some students had their lives upended by losing loved ones or needing to care for siblings while parents worked.

Others found the shift to at-home learning to be life-changing as it allowed them to dig into personal curiosities in a deeper way than ever before.

This space allows students to share these kinds of things, but it’s also okay to leave it blank.

n Since COVID-19 impacted everyone around the world, it will be part of the broad context of admission evaluation at every college this year.

That means it’s okay not to mention it in your application at all.

Nobody is going to forget you’re applying to college during a pandemic.

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