Common App CEO: Here's how to talk about the pandemic on your college applications

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On August 1, a college application season unlike any other officially began.

This year, prospective college students will be forced to navigate both in-person and online classes, build resumes without guaranteed access to standardized testing or extracurriculars and craft admissions essays that capture who they are and the circumstances they come from. 

With the coronavirus pandemic impacting essentially every community in the country, The Common Application, which is accepted by more than 900 U.S. schools and is used by over 1 million students each year, added a new section.

"We added a space on the application where students can talk about both the personal and educational impact that Covid-19 has had on them," says Common App CEO Jenny Rickard. "Whether they went remote, or whether they went remote and they didn't have Wi-Fi at home, or they didn't have the necessary resources to learn, or they had to take care of other people at home and they weren't able to devote time to school." 

Rickard says some students have lost family members, some have had their family financial situations change and many are dealing with exhausting — and distracting — emotional trauma. 

All of this information can be important context that students should add in this section. 

Rickard stresses that students should use this space to explain how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted them and their ability to study.

"Focus on the areas that have had the greatest impact, that have had the greatest significance, that have really changed their approach to their education or impacted their ability to take their classes, or that impacted their outlook on going to college," she explains. "It's only 250 words. We don't want students to dwell or stress out about this question, but to see it as an opportunity to share information that they think would be important for understanding their application given that these are particular circumstances that the student has been dealing with."

Rickard adds that the coronavirus pandemic has left its mark on the college admissions process beyond just the Common App.

Her organization estimates that before the pandemic, 56% of schools that accept the Common Application always required students to submit standardized test scores. Now, that share is just 27%. 

While some have made doomsday predictions about how the pandemic has predicted the end of traditional higher education, Rickard says her internal data suggests just the opposite. 

She says that 21% more students created applications with the Common Application between August 1st and August 3rd this year compared to other years. 

"Higher education is so important for our society and for us to actually create an equitable society that it is always going to be critically important for us and will continue to thrive," she says. 

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