Covid: Avoid the Topic

National Public Radio reports the essay is more important than ever this year. But maybe not about Covid:

By most accounts, students’ recommendations and their essays will get a closer read. And admissions officers will pore over transcripts looking for academic rigor and any patterns that help bear out a student’s academic profile. They’ll be working overtime trying to triangulate each piece of the application they have, to make up for what they don’t.

“The time and intensity that will be involved in the upcoming year is terrifying,” Abbott said. With some 35,000 applications expected to come in without standardized test scores or “a nice, easy, clean grade-point average that we can hang our hat on,” admissions officers will have to “take a deeper dive into each file and dig deeper into each candidate.”

But here’s a tip for students thinking about their essays this year: Schools said they should think twice before submitting 650 words on “How I Spent My COVID-19 Staycation.” As Tulane’s Schiffman cautioned, COVID fatigue is real.

“I’ll use myself as example. I’ve had to cancel my wedding four times,” Schiffman said, with a laugh. “Everyone is going through something, so I don’t think [admissions] folks are going to want to relive it over and over and over again with 45,000 applications.”

Schiffman is quick to add, however, that admissions officers understand the pandemic has created truly extenuating circumstances for many students, and they will be paying close attention to a new short question about how it’s affected students that has been added to this year’s Common Application.

“We’re real people who are also experiencing COVID,” said Whitney Soule, senior vice president, dean of admissions and student aid at Bowdoin College in Maine. “We’re also worried about people we love who are sick. We’re also not able to see people that we need to see or go places we really need to go. We’re living with a lot of the same stresses. So we understand what [students] will be telling us, and we’re sensitive to it, and we care about it.”

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