How to Respond to the Common App COVID-19 Question (+ Examples)
- What is the “Additional Information” Section?
- What is the COVID-19 and Community Disruption Question?
- Should You Respond to the Community Disruption Question?
- How to Respond and How Not to Respond
- Where to Get Your Essays Edited
The “Additional Information” section of the Common App has a new question: have you suffered any long-term impacts from COVID or natural disasters? The Common App notes this question is optional, but many students might be unsure whether filling out this question will give them an advantage over other applicants (like most “optional” essay prompts).
Here are some tips on how to navigate the prompt.
What is the “Additional Information” Section?
The “Additional Information” section is a place to provide necessary context that is not already present in your application. The question asks:
“Do you wish to provide details of circumstances or qualifications not reflected in the application?”
For example, if your grades dropped due to an extenuating circumstance, or if you self-studied for your AP exams, those would be worth mentioning here in this section.
Keep in mind though that the “Additional Information” section is completely optional: you will not be penalized for skipping it. While most optional essay prompts are in fact necessary to stand out in a crowded admissions field, this section is meant more for circumstances which do not apply to everyone. That’s why we recommend skipping it if you don’t have something to say — adding an extra essay or overstating adversity can backfire on your application.
What is the COVID-19 and Community Disruption Question?
The community disruption question states:
Community disruptions such as COVID-19 and natural disasters can have deep and long-lasting impacts. If you need it, this space is yours to describe those impacts. Colleges care about the effects on your health and well-being, safety, family circumstances, future plans, and education, including access to reliable technology and quiet study spaces. For more information, check out our COVID-19 FAQ.
Notice the comparison between COVID and natural disasters: this is not an essay that everyone is expected to fill out. Instead, think of this as an extension of the original “Additional Information” prompt that is meant to filter in answers related to these subjects.
Admissions officers are human, and they will genuinely want to know if you struggled with those events. This prompt is meant as a way for students to provide context so they are not adversely affected in the admissions process.
Should You Respond to the Community Disruption Question?
The linked FAQ specifically states: “the question is not intended to be an extra essay.” The examples they give that would justify a response include loss of family employment, lack of internet access, or a related shift in your career interests.
Here is the full list of examples from the Common App of circumstances that could warrant a response:
- Illness or loss within your family or support network
- Employment or housing disruptions within your family
- Food insecurity
- Toll on mental and emotional health
- New obligations such as part-time work or care for siblings or family members
- Availability of computer or internet access required to continue your studies
- Access to a safe and quiet study space
- A new direction for your major or career interests
In short, you should not use this space to describe things experienced by the general public or everyone at your school (your counselor’s recommendation will let colleges know of things like school closures or grading changes). This is a place to acknowledge how COVID or other disruptions negatively impacted you relative to other students.
If you feel your application would be incomplete without this context, then you should fill out the section.
How to Respond (and How Not to Respond) to the Community Disruption Question
How to Respond
The most important thing to remember is that this is not an essay prompt. Your response (as with the “Additional Information” question) should be factual and to the point. Avoid the narrative style you would use for normal essays and treat it more as a footnote to your application.
Also, double check and make sure the information you provide is not already listed in other parts of your application, like your personal statement or extracurriculars list. If you want to give a more personal account than the format allows, then consider using the story in your personal statement or supplementals.
And lastly, even though this is not a creative writing sample, make sure your answer is as polished as the other parts of your application — use complete sentences and avoid careless grammatical errors. You want to make sure this response, like everything else in your application, is reflective of you as an applicant.
Here are some examples:
Example 1: In 2020 my school district shut down and switched to remote learning. However, living in a rural area on the outskirts of my school district, I did not have access to stable internet for Zoom classes. My teachers were helpful in providing accommodations, but I ultimately decided to take a reduced courseload for that year. Though I will still be able to graduate on time, I have only had room in my schedule for required courses and have not been able to take as many electives as I would have liked.
Example 2: In October 2022 my town was flooded by Hurricane Ian and my home largely damaged. My family moved in with relatives in North Carolina, which is why I went to school there for the rest of the semester. Not all of my classes were transferable, so I did not finish with any honors or AP courses. I ultimately suffered worse grades for the school year.
How Not to Respond
Do not use this space to discuss common disruptions faced by many other students — like missing out on extracurriculars, transitioning to online classes, or experiencing lockdowns. Most relevant changes, like new grading policies, will be explained by your counselor in their part of the application.
Also avoid playing up a minor impact, like your grades dropping slightly or missing out on an extracurricular, as it can make your response come across as relatively privileged.
In short, just remember that this space is for exceptional or unusual circumstances — misusing it will be seen as inappropriate.
Where to Get Your Essays Edited
Do you want feedback on your college essays? While the Common App COVID question isn’t a traditional essay, you may still want feedback on it or your other essays. After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.
If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!