By the OWU Admission Team

COVID-19 is the elephant in every Zoom room. Disrupting our lives and routines, the global pandemic has impacted almost every industry, and higher education is no exception. As college students adjust to hybrid classes and wearing masks around campus, admission offices are also adapting.

For this unprecedented admission cycle, colleges and universities recognize that, while many aspects of the application will remain the same, applications will undoubtedly look different than ever before, as students struggle with canceled activities and swift switches to online learning.

To help students and families create the best application possible, we included a few tips and tricks for applying in the COVID-19 era. 

1. Do not be afraid to share contextual information in response to the COVID-19 question on the Common Application. This year, the CommonApp added a question where students can discuss any challenges the global pandemic has created for them or their family. This open-ended question gives students 250 words to talk about issues with reliable technology, struggles with online learning, family or personal health, canceled or postponed extracurricular activities, economic insecurity, or other related topics.

Colleges care about context, especially during this application cycle, because every student has been impacted in some way by the pandemic’s consequences. If you feel you have something important to share that will provide insight into an aspect of your application, don’t hesitate to express your thoughts.

2. COVID-19 can be a character in your essay, but it should not be the main idea. As mentioned in the tip above, the CommonApp now includes a section for students to share about COVID-19’s impact on their lives, so writing about the same topic in the primary essay may be a bit repetitive. The essay section offers an opportunity for students to share something new about themselves, such as a hobby, role model, life lesson, or favorite memory. Essays can be emotional, but some of the best essays are humorous and light.

Many students will write about the pandemic this year and next year, as this global crisis is one of the largest challenges and disruptions students have faced. However, avoiding this topic as your primary essay can help your work stand out.

3. The activities section can include informal or canceled extracurricular activities. One of the ways that high school students were hurt by the pandemic is the disruption of after-school activities: sports seasons, part-time jobs, musical groups, debate teams, and so much more. In your activities section, colleges and universities want to learn more about what you do when you are not in school. If you spent a lot of time cultivating your new baking skills during the pandemic, tell us!

It is completely fine if some activities listed are not an “official school activity.” You can also include activities that you planned to do but were canceled due to the pandemic, as long as you are clear about the interruption of your plans. Again, colleges and universities want to gauge your interests and understand what you would have done if you were able to.

4. Use test optional policies to your advantage. This year, over 80% of Ohio’s private colleges and universities instituted test optional or test blind options for applicants, as so many students are struggling to take or retake one of the standardized tests (ACT and SAT). If you were not able to take the ACT or SAT, check in with each institution you are applying to about their test optional policy.

Make sure to ask if their review process for awarding scholarships or certain competitive awards will also be test optional. Sometimes you still need test scores for the top scholarship opportunities, honors programs, or specific majors, even if the school is considered “test optional.” 

If you were able to take an ACT or SAT, only submit your scores to a test optional school if they are strong. Having scores does not necessarily boost your application; they can sometimes hinder it. A good rule of thumb to use is as follows: If your scores are above the average, you should submit them. If they are below the institution’s average, you should opt for test-optional. Most admission representatives, and your college counselor, can help you make a good decision. Ask your admission counselor at each institution for their recommendation, and use your college counselor’s knowledge of the process to assist you as well.  Read OWU's test optional policy.

At Ohio Wesleyan, we recognize that life may be a bit hectic right now. Our best advice is to remain calm and use all of your resources to submit the strongest college application you can. Every prospective college student around the world has been impacted by this global crisis, so take a deep breath and know that you are not alone!

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