Caring Counts in Crisis: What to Keep in Mind When Applying to College During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Several weeks back, USC’s Dean of Admission, along with over three hundred other college admissions leaders, signed a statement about how we hope applicants will approach the college application process during the coronavirus pandemic. In short, when you apply to USC this Fall, we’re not looking for “long brag sheets of accomplishments but meaningful engagement in learning and meaningful ethical engagement, especially concern for others and the common good.”  

Perhaps the most important thing this statement says is that we will try our best to review your application in the context of your experience of this pandemic. We encourage you to share your personal challenges and obstacles you have faced to getting your work done and being involved in your community in the past months.  

As you begin to think about applying to college, here’s a summary of what USC Admission and other college admission leaders want you to keep in mind.  

  1. Self-Care 

We know the coronavirus pandemic has impacted individuals and families in many different ways, be it medically, financially, or otherwise. We want you to prioritize your physical and mental well-being during this time when you are likely stressed in more ways than one. Take time for yourself, even though you’re likely staying safe indoors and making compromises to keep others safe.   

  1. Academic Work

We are going to review your grades and the classes you took in the context of any of challenges you share with us. The person who reads your application is going to do their best to understand how your high school has responded pandemic and what opportunities have been available to you. So, continue to challenge yourself, but know that we won’t be looking for you to take classes or be involved in activities that weren’t available to you.  

  1. Service and contributions to others

When it comes to serving others, the USC admission team does not want to see a culture of competition for getting leadership positions and creating new non-profits. Rather, we want you to engaging others in ways that are authentic and meaningful.  Whether you’re checking in on a neighbor or getting involved with larger pandemic relief efforts, any size contribution can make an impact.  That being said, no student will be disadvantaged if they have been unable to serve their community.   

  1. Family contributions

The responsibilities you have had and sacrifices you have made for your family are activities you can discuss in the activities section of your college application. Maybe you’ve cared for siblings, or a sick family member? Some of you have even had to maintain jobs doing essential work to help support your family financially. Please tell us about these important contributions and know that they can only have a positive impact on your college application.  

  1. Extracurricular and summer activities 

Students will not be disadvantaged if they are unable to participate in activities that were cancelled or altered due to the pandemic. Also, keeping the above points in mind, there might have been virtual or socially distant activities you weren’t able to participate in because you had to prioritize other responsibilities. We know and expect that every student’s ability to participate in activities will be different.  


Look out for a future blog post with tips for talking about your experience of the coronavirus pandemic when filling out your application to USC. Even though we are going to gather information about your school and community’s response to this crisis, we will want you to tell us the challenges you have faced this past year. All that you share with us will remain confidential and help us make a more informed admission decision. Until then, take care and fight on!