College Essays in a Time of COVID and Unrest

As the nation grapples with the ongoing pandemic, the rise of racial justice protests across the country, deadly fires on the West coast, and an uncertain economy, young people are entering a school year with a lot on their minds. Helping seniors through their college essays this fall will not be business as usual. Here are some tips to help educators guide students through the process.

Help students find depth 

Educators can help students tap into the depth of the current challenges they’re facing. Ask your students to think about what lessons they are learning around resilience. What life lessons are they learning from experiencing a global pandemic? What are the racial justice protests teaching them about who they are as a person? What are these difficult times teaching us? Admissions experts want to read about a student’s personal growth and how new insights have shaped who they are today. Students can review the Common App’s essay prompts to get their ideas flowing. Being able to answer some of these questions can help students channel their voice and write a college essay that will speak to their growth.

Help students find uniqueness

Even in these times of collective trauma, it’s important that students communicate in their college essays their passions and what makes them unique. Colleges will inevitably receive countless essays this application season that speak to the effects of COVID-19 and the racial injustice affecting America’s youth. Students are dealing with these challenges in very different ways. Help them find their unique voice when talking about collective experiences for their college essays to stand out. We know that many students potentially lost caregivers to the pandemic. Some students may have been displaced or confined for months. There may be students who have become activists since you last saw them, or they may have discovered new passions. Help them define how they are unique in this moment.

Help students redefine their professional experiences

With the economic shutdown and companies shifting to remote work, many students across the country lost out on summer internships and jobs. This is a good time to remind students to be creative when seeking opportunities that will impress admissions officers. Some companies have adapted their internship programs to virtual opportunities. If your student had a summer internship lined up that fell through, encourage them to reach back out to the company about a virtual opportunity. You may have students who are essential workers, had to seek employment, or may already be working, taking on even more responsibility to help their families through the pandemic. Students should be encouraged to share the skills they learn from these work experiences as well. Applaud their efforts for managing the world of work and their commitment to taking a further step with their education.

If you need additional resources to support you through this unprecedented school year, check out NAF’s Education Today website and sign up for our weekly emails to receive great lessons and activities, live events for students and educators, and help from our community.

Colleen Gillis, M.Ed. has always had a desire to help young people, thus guiding her career as an educator. After being a high school counselor in a career academy, she shares the message of transformative learning opportunities for students. At NAF, as an Academy Development Manager, Colleen supports school districts and academies to achieve their goals and create meaningful experiences.

Stefani Falkowski is the Digital Marketing Manager at NAF. She’s passionate about universal access to education and giving a platform to students across the country doing incredible things. Stefani writes about workforce development, career building, and the impact of the NAF network.