Personal stories have always been “in!”
But Douglas Belkin, in his recent article in the Wall Street Journal, is correct in saying that they are more “in” than ever!
Indeed, now is the time to grab the attention of college admissions by writing essays that shine.
This year, like never before, personal stories are not only “in,” they could very well be game-changers — partly because there are fewer criteria by which colleges can assess students, but also because we are all hungry for contact, for sense-making, for communication.
Memo to high-school seniors applying to selective colleges: A high score on your SAT is out. A Covid-19 epiphany is in.
Hundreds of colleges dropped their mandate for a standardized test score this year as a result of the pandemic, but the replacement criterion at many schools may be just as daunting for would-be college freshmen: a new understanding of themselves and their place in the world as a result of the pandemic.
While the senior class of 2020 was hit with a double whammy — they did not get to fulfill the promises of their senior year (prom, graduation) nor did they get to enter their freshman year in college in the (normal) way that generations of college freshman had before them — the freshman class of 2021 (hopefully!) will be blessed with a kind of tabula rasa and call to action like never before.
Students entering college in the fall of next year will have a greater appreciation for in-person contact with teachers and peers, will have a feeling of having survived a trauma that others were not as lucky to have survived, and will have a far-from-theoretical imperative to do something to make the world and the planet more safe, more viable, and hopefully more hospitable, for generations to come.
This is a generation faced with questions not just of coping, but of survival.
Fires, hurricanes, pandemics, irreversible damage to the planet — you would have to be deaf and blind not to see what is right in front of your eyes.
The question of how the present circumstances impact you and what you might do to help save the species and the planet is exactly what the COVID Supplement to the Common App asks of you:
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 the last six months, I have received a barrage of questions concerning the COVID Supplement. Because no such prompt has ever been put forth in the history of college admissions, students, parents and college counselors are understandably flummoxed when it comes to the COVID Supplement.
Although the question is very literal in the way that it is asked — it refers to “the effects on your health and well-being, safety, family circumstances, future plans, and education, including access to reliable technology and quiet study spaces” — your answer can be much more profound.
I have been advising teachers and counselors to have their students keep a COVID journal. This is an easy ask: Simply record, daily or whenever the moment arises, any thoughts, insights, articles, dreams, conversations, adjustments related to and/ or springing from COVID.
Once you have recorded your observations, insights and reactions — and perhaps recounted moments in which the effects of these present circumstances have impacted you — you are ready to read what you’ve written to figure out what you’re trying to say!
Look over what you’ve written and see if you can reflect on and make sense of it. Then you can write a kind of overarching statement that helps support the details.
I’ll give you an example. Recently, a student I was working with recorded, in his COVID journal, recurring dreams involving dodging mask-less people in crowded places and then discovering in himself the miraculous ability to fly or rise above the crowd to safety.
Reflecting on these dreams, he was able to see how they illuminated a general ability he has to drive forward, survive, and even excel in the most difficult of circumstances. COVID has helped him realize that he one day wants to run for office, and speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, to help those who cannot “rise above” their circumstances.
Had he not recorded his dreams — and then reflected on them — I am sure he would not have had any idea of how to write his COVID supplement.
My advice is always the same: Write First, Think Later. If you then pan for gold, as it were, the nuggets will find their way to you (rather than the other way around!)
Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on. — Louis L’Amour
I would be happy to guide you and help you with your Common App Essays as well as with the COVID (and other) supplement(s). You don’t have to go it alone. Feel free to shoot me an email or give me a call at 415-637-1955. I’m here to help. You can book an appointment here.