Should I Write About Covid-19 In My Personal Statement / College Admission Essay?

As I write this post, we are very much still in the thick of the Covid-19 global pandemic.

Many colleges and grad schools are taking stock of the situation and shifting to test-optional admissions. This means that Personal Statements and admission essays will carry even more weight than before.

But, hey, no pressure!

As the stakes for a unique Personal Statement have risen, so has the desire of applicants to provide a more dramatic story in their essays—and what’s more dramatic than a worldwide pandemic ?

But before you write about Covid-19 in your Personal Statement, take a look at these three reasons why you maybe shouldn’t

Reason 1: We’re still in it

My #1 piece of advice for applicants considering writing about a challenge is to only do so if they have some distance from the situation.

You need to demonstrate what you’ve learned from the challenge and that’s hard to do if you’re too close to the moment you’re describing—or if you’re still living through it.

In a Personal Statement, you need to see the forest and the trees, but how can you see the forest if you’re still wondering around inside of it like the rest of us? 

This is an ongoing situation and you don’t know how it’s going to affect you in the long term quite yet. As I wrote about here, being able to self-reflect is key to demonstrating a growth mindset, and in order to reflect you need to have distance from the motivating moment.

Reason 2: We’re all in it

One of my favorite points that I’ve seen about this pandemic is: “We’re not all in the same boat. We’re just caught in the same storm.”

How we navigate this time varies dramatically depending on what kind of boat you’re on and who else is on that boat with you (e.g. your location, socio-economic status, living situation, and mental health).

While we might all be going through this moment in time, our experiences differ greatly as a result of our circumstances.

My sincerest hope for you all is that the greatest challenge you face these days is boredom, but unfortunately too many folks are suffering monumental struggles such as loss of financial resources, illness, or worse.

If you write about the challenge of losing an internship, for example, while your reader might have experienced so much more, then you run the risk of sounding insensitive and a bit tone deaf.

Reason 3: So many people will be writing about the pandemic.  

The last reason to avoid writing about the pandemic is the simplest one: a lot of applicants will be writing about the pandemic.

If you do too, then you run the risk of being lost in a sea of sameness. Your Personal Statement should help you stand out from the crowd not blend in.

“So I shouldn’t talk about it at all?”

While I advise that you not write about the pandemic, I am not saying that you need to pretend that you live in an alternate reality in which everything is totally normal.

There is, however, a major difference between mentioning the pandemic and making it the focal point.

If there is a need to mention Covid-19 in order to demonstrate an important point, then you should absolutely mention it, but a mention is enough.

This is your PERSONAL Statement after all, and your readers want to know about you, not a description of current events.

“But I really think my pandemic experience is unique/important!”

There are two exceptions to my general advice to avoid writing about Covid-19. If they apply to you, then maybe consider writing about the pandemic… but tread carefully.

Exception 1: You did something to help (and it’s okay if you didn’t!)

If, for example, you did something as a result of the pandemic (collected PPE for a local hospital, raised funds for families in need, etc.) great, but don’t focus on that. Go further. Show us instead how taking part in this particular way helped you realize something about yourself–beyond that you “want to help people,” which, by the way, is the most cliché thing you can say in a Personal Statement.

Exception 2: The pandemic had a tremendous effect on you (and/or your family)  

In order to use this exception, the effect on you and/or your family needs to be much more than an inconvenience.

If you do choose to share the changes to your life as a result of the pandemic, you should only do so if you can demonstrate that you’ve learned something about yourself from this experience (on a deeper level than just a new skill or hobby) and it has motivated you to take some sort of action that connects to the opportunity to which you are applying.

I know that it’s tempting to write about what’s going on in your life given the pandemic, but before you do, truly consider if you need to rely on something so monumental in all of our lives.

For more on the importance of unpacking the story for your readers, take a look at this post.

Have you written a Personal Statement lately, or are you working on one now? What challenges did you come across? Post a question in the comments and I’ll answer it!

4 thoughts on “Should I Write About Covid-19 In My Personal Statement / College Admission Essay?

  1. Meline

    This is interesting. Because of the pandemic, my learning experience has been altered in unimaginable ways and I am not alone in that. I am considering applying for another degree and reflexively started to think about writing about my “pandemic experience.” This is a good reminder to look beyond the easily accessible topics and highlight uniqueness in your personal statement. Thank you, Anna!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Meline! Glad this was a useful post. And I’d love to work with you again so reach out if you wind up going for another degree!

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