College Applications: College Essays on the Common App 2022-23
Greetings High School & Middle School Students & Families
Congratulations to our Graduating Seniors !
I’m so proud of everyone – college acceptances, lucrative scholarships and invitations to participate in research/honors programs. You accomplished this all in the middle of a global pandemic -adapting and succeeding. We also had a great season negotiating financial aid award letters for families who appealed aid packages. Everyone is eager to embark on the next step of their journey — some students already have found their fall roommates– Bravo!
Our Rising Seniors– class of 2023 – you’re likely engaged in college research and we expect that campuses will begin to welcome visitors for overnight on-campus visits this fall. That said, between now and then, you should be honing in on a short-list – the balance of reach, match and safety campuses. Don’t apply anywhere you wouldn’t be thrilled to attend. A “safety” shouldn’t ever feel like a consolation prize — but a campus community you see yourself thriving if you attend. Mid summer I’ll be sending out updates about campus visits – some include some invited overnight programs for targeted students.
With college applications ahead, all students should ensure the appropriate coursework has been selected relating to the intended college major during your senior year applications. You simply cannot submit a college application to major in a STEM field without having ever taken an AP /IB/AICE science class- you’ll be unprepared for the rigorous lab work ahead and you’ll be a less competitive applicant.
Likewise- if you read my note on recommended AP courses- I highly recommend AP Macro or AP Micro and AP Statistics to prepare for a business degree. All of my AP course recommendations can be found in my AP Newsletter – the link on the header above covering course planning. Having advised thousands of high school, undergraduate and graduate students in my role as a university professor- please leverage my understanding of academic curriculum across a variety of fields – be prepared!
with College Consultant Bonnie Rabin, PhD
This newsletter provides information about the Common Application Essays (plural!!) relevant for all students and important insights about the COVID-Prompt returning a third year to the application process. The choice of prompts for the Personal Statement/core essay remains (last year there was a new prompt added). I’ll be discussing all these moving parts in this newsletter.
This newsletter explores the five types of essays you’ll find on the 2022-23 common application.
– Core /Personal Statement
– College Specific Supplemental Essays (yes plural)
– Additional Information/Research Abstracts
– Optional COVID prompt (NEW prompt returns a third year!!)
and for some students:
school interruption and
disciplinary action mini-prompts
LET’s Start with the COVID Prompt!
The COVID prompt was introduced two cycles ago and we expect to see this prompt until the class of 2024 applies to college. The College Board described their intentions about the new Common App optional section
, during the 2020-21 application — 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.
The COVID-19 section allows students to explain how the pandemic shaped their personal and academic lives. It addresses “disruption” and missed opportunities as well as personal trauma.
Here’s the actual prompt that students will find on the Common App:
“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 a earlier newsletter about what 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 common 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 impact.
Common Application Optional COVID-prompt vs.
Personal Statement/Core Essay:
In previous blogs about COVID 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, 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 is recent – and while for some students this chapter of your life may have been tragic on a personal level- for the vast majority, although the past years were likely defined by disruption and adaption — so much more defines you and therefore for this reason- I’m thrilled that the Common App has created this dedicated and optional COVID prompt.
COVID Prompt- How to Reply?
Should You Reply?
The question is optional once again appears in the Additional Information section of the application. You may already know there’s another “Additional Information” question – I often recommend using that section to present research abstracts, provide more 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 to 250 words. 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 online 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 have done 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 reinforced your previous connection within your community in new ways revealing insights about yourself and others that changed a direction – that becomes the potential for an outstanding Personal Statement.
Please use your COVID prompt wisely – but it is most certainly not another space to note an “accomplishment”.
Some examples include discussing missed opportunities– perhaps you were had qualified for international robotics or were accepted to a prestigious and selective summer research program – both of these cancelled in summers 2020 or 2021- talk about how you refocused your emerging interests at home leveraging what options were available during these uncertain times.
If perhaps your plans for SAT or ACT exams during the 2019-20 or 2020-21 or 2021-22 year were changed or the progression of your planned curriculum was impacted by cancelled classes 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. 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.
The Common App will again retain 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 during the end of the 2019-20 year? 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 semester in 2019-20 was unique. Your grades may have suffered last year or even in the fall of 2020-21. Or maybe you or a family member contracted COVID this year and grades or extracurriculars were impacted. The optional COVID prompt- provides all rising seniors ’23 an opportunity to elaborate while still being able to work on your traditional Common App core and supplemental essays. (Discussed below).
The new section is OPTIONAL and no one will not 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.
The “Additional Information” Section Will Remain on the COMMON App.
Again as noted, the optional COVID prompt doesn’t replace the Common App’s existing “Additional Information” section. If you’ve done research during the academic year or in a summer program, the research abstract should 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. (Keep in mind, most colleges do NOT invite a resume upload– so this is the place to list awards of significance.
Or perhaps, there was a 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.
Admissions officers are people too — their lives were also disrupted , their jobs may have gone remote, and they also 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.
Many colleges will continue the test-optional policies applied extensively during the 2020-21 and 2021-22 cycles making the college admissions process even more holistic and looking for ways to evaluate the high school class of 2023 that endured a very unusual three years of high school.
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.