Greetings Students and Families,

Whether you’re back-to-school in the classroom, at -home or in a hybrid model, your first quarter is behind you and it’s important that you embrace the year ,– staying focused on your goals- learning, discovering and being joyful are essential to realizing your academic and personal goals. Our seniors should be fully immersed in their Common App 2020-21 and college essays. In separate blogs, I’ve discussed forming a balanced list of colleges, conducting college research, test optional policies and financial aid/scholarships. If you haven’t yet built a College Admissions Plan or a 9th grade student setting goals – Please reach out to schedule an Educational and College Admissions Planning Assessment with Bonnie Rabin, PhD. You’re Unique, let’s leverage your talents and interests for an amazing year.

If  you’re a regular reader of my blogs and newsletters, I expect that you incorporated many of my suggestions to navigate through school closings, extracurricular activities on pause,  revised AP/SAT/ACT exams policies and test dates, and even closed college campuses during COVID-19- —all of this leaving students and parents wondering about the impact during this uncertain time on your high school student’s educational goals and college applications.  

It’s daunting- confusing- uncertain–but you should know that college admissions officers are just like you- they understand what you’ve been through and prepared to take this all into account during the upcoming college application season.  ***Most important- your goals haven’t changed– let’s keep that important perspective in mind!!

This fall I wrote a multi- part essay series. — Here’s the links to review.


Part I Common App Core Essays = Writing Authentic and Amazing Common App Colege Essays


Part II Common App College Specific Suplemental Essays

Insider Tips  for Success
COLLEGE APPLICATION ESSAYS  Who Are You? Set Goals Early & Engage Throughout HS!


TIPS for College Admissions SUCCESS! UNIQUE PRESENTATION MATTERS!! Two of the most important ways in which you’ll distinguish yourself on your college applications from your equally qualified peers are your extracurricular activities (including honors and awards earned) and the content of your essay(s). Essays should reveal your strengths, passions and how you connect to others by sharing your experiences in a heartfelt and authentic essay.

There are now four types of essays:
Common/Coalition Application Core Essay (650 words)


College Specific Supplemental Essays (varying in length: 150 to 800 words – as few as one and as many as seven additional prompts)
and two OPTIONAL Spaces to provide more information: — Anything Else?  (650 max)—  COVID PROMPT  (250 max) 

Let’s discuss the differences and how to tackle your essay(s).  Even at one-essay-only colleges, there will often be a supplemental essay to receive consideration for Honors programs and/or academic scholarships.

This Blog discusses the OPTIONAL COVID PROMPT and the OPTIONAL ESSAY

There are two more OPTIONAL Prompts on your Common Application- the first provides a space for up to 650 words to respond and the COVID prompt up to 250 words.

These two additional prompts are located on the Common App Writing Tab- — this is separate from the College’s specific section.  
“You may use the space below to provide any additional information you wish to share.” 
The “Additional Information” Section Will Remain on the COMMON App and includes the question above– that’s been there for years and a new Optional COVID prompt for 2020-21.

Let’s look at the first section and how you might benefit from sharing information.  If you’ve done research during the academic year or in a summer program, the research abstract could be placed here.  Have an impressive lengthy list of mathematics, robotics, or film awards exceeding the space provided elsewhere on the Common App for up to five “Honors and Awards” – this is a great place to include these.  

Or perhaps, there was a (unrelated to COVID) tragic or disruptive experience that impacted your ability to reach your academic potential or participate in extracurricular experiences that might have informed and demonstrated your commitment to your intended major- this is another space to share those insights with College Admissions Officers.   For example,  a personal illness/injury, family circumstances or a disruptive relocation(s). Please reach out to discuss your unique experiences so we can build your College Application PLAN- addressing essays and prompts on the Common Application including:

The second and new prompt on the  

The 2020-21 college application cycle is likely to look very different.  The College Board has described their intentions behind the new Common App optional section. The primary goal in providing students with an opportunity to discuss how they have been affected by COVID-19. You may be wondering whether this section is one to respond to on your college application in addition to all the other essay prompts already in place.

Here’s the  actual prompt that students will find:”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.”

 In WHAT DO COLLEGE ADMISSIONS OFFICERS CONSIDER, I spoke about the importance of holistic admissions and the essential role college essays assume in sharing more about the individual applicant. This new and optional prompt is important because it establishes a unique space for each student to go one step further and explain anything that might be relevant for admissions officers to consider when evaluating their 2020-21 application. By providing a separate and optional question,students have the balance of their application to share the stories that enable colleges to get to know each student apart from the COVID-19 setting.

In previous newsletters and blogs, I’ve written about COVID-19 and college applications, I noted that it’s probably not a great way to present your best face as an applicant using the required Common App personal statement to discuss COVID-19, as so many other students might do so.  Why do you want your subject matter to resemble the content provided by many other applicants? You don’t -and you want to stand out!
Your personal statement – or core essay is your opportunity to inform admissions officers about aspects of your unique identity/persona that aren’t revealed in any other section of your Common Application.  
COVID-19 is recent – and while it for some students this chapter of your life may have been tragic on a personal level- for the vast majority, the past  6 months were likely defined by disruption and adaption and therefore aren’t likely the best topic for your Common Application personal statement.  For this reason- I’m thrilled though that the Common App has created this dedicated and optional COVID prompt.

The question is optional.  As we discussed above, there’s already another “Additional Information” question – where I recommend presenting research abstracts, or another space for significant awards (as the Common App leaves space for only 5 -Hint: AP Distinction is NOT an award)!),  or discuss unusual/unique personal circumstances.
Your response is limited. The Common App has provided an FAQ page for the COVID prompt, and suggests some of the appropriate topics that might be presented are: illness and loss, housing and employment disruptions, and shifting family obligations.  Maybe your grades suffered – maybe under COVID learning models, your grades increased and you found a new resilience in the face of the disruption- all of this appropriate for responding to the question.
This is NOT the place to “brag” about buying groceries for a few of your elderly home-bound neighbors. In fact, that’s the very least any of us should be doing as neighbors and citizens in a connected community. Being a good neighbor is NOT exceptional nor extraordinary behavior.

Moreover, if it took a pandemic for you to notice your neighbors in-need, that isn’t what you should be presenting in your Common App. In contrast, perhaps through shopping for your neighbors,  you’ve connected to your community in new ways revealing insights about yourself and others that changed a direction – that becomes the potential for an outstanding Personal Statement. Maybe you had previously spent time with your elderly neighbors and have found new ways to sustain and deepen that meaningful interaction. Please use your COVID 19 space wisely – but it is most certainly not another space to note an “accomplishment”.
I think having pivoted on summer plans and sharing how you spent summer 2020 when your plans were upended is a great use of space.

As I’ve blogging since early March – I’ve written close to a dozen COVID impact pieces. By now, you appreciate that higher education is changing, adapting and as such, college admissions officers truly appreciate what high school students are experiencing (abruptly paused extracurricular activities, cancelled summer programs and online learning).  All students have been impacted and the admissions process will adapt to incorporate ways to evaluate students during the 2020-21 College Admissions cycle reflecting all these challenges.  That’s why there is a new section for students.

Also, the Common App is adding a section in the Secondary School Report where your high school guidance counselor can explain specifically how their students were impacted academically by changes at a personal and/or school-wide level. Perhaps your high school went to a pass/fail for the second semester.  Your counselor should support any of your individual specific experiences.  Required secondary school reports will detail any changes at your high school that impacted all students.AS YOU HEAD INTO THE COLLEGE APPLICATION SEASON, TAKE PAUSE AND APPRECIATE THAT COLLEGE ADMISSIONS OFFICERS KNOW THAT YOUR SPRING 2020 SEMESTER WAS UNIQUE.  THE NEW PROMPT PROVIDES AN  OPPORTUNITY TO ELABORATE WHILE STILL BEING ABLE TO WORK ON YOUR TRADITIONAL COMMON APP CORE AND SUPPLEMENTAL ESSAYS.The new section is OPTIONAL  and no one will hold it against you if you opt out of replying to the COVID-19 query. This is an opportunity to provide additional details about any personal or academic challenges and change that may have resulted during this incredibly difficult and unforeseen time.

Finally,  if perhaps your plans for Subject tests, SAT or ACT exams or the progression of your planned curriculum were impacted or other disturbances to summer plans or competitions occurred-take advantage of this optional section to discuss what took place and how you have adapted. Provide details but be concise and honest.   In my last newsletter /blogs on TEST OPTIONAL policies– I explored what’s behind the intepretation of these policies.  If peers in your high school are testing and you don’t test- while colleges don’t expect or require an explanation for why you didn’t test- if your choice is related to family health risk -I would note that on your COVID prompt.Each college is unique- including whether tests are actually required and the last acceptable testing date. Many universities have move that date further out to accommodate the missed opportunities to test. Most universities – 750+ aren’t even requiring these during the admissions cycle.  I don’t encourage adding stress or money or time to take the exam one more time – unless your top choices are still requiring the exams.

I’m here to help you with an appropriate response and evaluate the extent to which the details are worthy of sharing on your Common Application. Always keep your focus on your educational objectives and relate to the college plan you have put into place.
Admissions officers are people too – their lives disrupted, their jobs may have gone remote, and they also have endured cancellations and an inability to engage in their regular routine.  Everyone appreciates the toll of the pandemic and no doubt you can rest assured that all of this will be considered as applications are evaluated for admission to the class of 2025.As noted, mot colleges are test-optional for the upcoming admissions cycle, making the college admissions process even more holistic and looking for ways to evaluate the high school class of 2021 that endured a  very unusual junior year.

When extracurricular and summer plans were paused- or colleges visits and information sessions canceled, universities will re-evaluate other parts of the application that demonstrate connections to “informed interest”-teacher recommendations and essays will be heavily weighted in the coming application cycle.CLICK TO Schedule an Essay Brainstorming an College Admissions and Common Application Strategy Session with Online College Advisor Bonnie Rabin, PhD

Warm regards, 

Bonnie Rabin, PhD


Congratulations to our clients!   Are you next?!

Carnegie Mellon, Princeton, Cornell, U. Michigan, Northwestern, Georgia Tech, University of North Carolina, Vassar, Brown, Bowdoin, Wellesley, Emory, U.Illinois, Notre Dame, NYU, Rice, University of Chicago, Washington University (WUSTL), Drexel, Tulane, London School of Economics, Purdue, Swarthmore, SCAD, Ohio, Georgetown, Hamilton, Reed, Miami, Johns Hopkins, University of Florida, University of Arizona, Penn State, Villanova, Northeastern, SUNY-ESF, St. Johns, Embry-Riddle, Colgate, Fordham, Columbia, Barnard, Syracuse, Swarthmore, Pittsburgh, Dickinson, Colorado, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Howard, Fordham, SUNY Stonybrook, Duke, Case Western, Rochester Institute of Technology, Parsons, Virginia Tech, Boston U., Hobart & William Smith, Claremont Mckenna, Davidson, Westpoint, Gettysburg, Amherst, Temple, Denison, Howard, UT Austin, SUNY-Binghamton, Hamilton, George Washington, American, Indiana, SMU, James Madison, and many more!

College Advisor Bonnie Rabin, PhD reviewing College Acceptances