Talking About COVID-19 in Your USC Application

Several weeks back on the blog we posted a summary of a statement our Dean of Admission and hundreds of other Admission leaders signed in support of college applicants prioritizing taking care of themselves and others amidst the coronavirus pandemic. It’s likely that you have now begun working on your Common Application, your personal statement, and perhaps even USC’s supplement. However, we know that all of us are still feeling the effects of COVID-19. 

We want you to remember that, as it was in non-COVID times, USC’s application process is holistic and we do our best to take an applicant’s individual context into account. The people who read your application will look at and consider your entire application, where you come from, what opportunities were available to you at your school, and any additional information you share with us about your background. I always encourage the students I work with to share as much in their application about their own unique situation as they feel comfortable with because, “If you don’t tell us, we don’t know.”  

When it comes to taking context into account in the time of COVID, we know and will read every application remembering that everyone has had a tough year. Even if you choose not to say a word about COVID-19 in your college application, we will still do our best to figure out how things have been different for you in light of the pandemic. Still, it’s possible that your experience of this past year has brought challenges that you feel your college application would not be complete without sharing.  

The folks at Common App have added an optional question below to this year’s application to help you talk about the impact of COVID-19  

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. 

Do you wish to share anything on this topic? Yes/No 

Please use this space to describe how these events have impacted you. 

This COVID-related question will be optional and will appear in the Additional Information section of the application. If you choose to respond, you will have 250 words to talk about how you were impacted by the coronavirus pandemic without having to use your personal statement to do so.  

Perhaps you want to tell us how your class schedule and grading procedures may have changed. We know that many schools and districts have changed their grading to be pass/no pass. And even though this might frustrate you, know that this is not something unique to just your transcript. Don’t worry! We saw many P/NP transcripts last spring after schools quickly shut down and will look at your academic performance before and after this sudden change.  

You might choose to use this space to tell us how your academic goals were impacted by these kinds of changes. Was there a class you weren’t able to take because your school switched to a block schedule? Knowing that whoever reads your application will try to figure out how your school responded, tell us how these changes have affected you and your own unique academic goals.  

We know many students’ home and extracurricular lives have looked quite different this past year than usual. Maybe, going to school online surrounded by your family members, you didn’t have your own, quiet space to work? Perhaps you have had a job to help support your family during this time? Or did one of your family members getting sick distract you from your studies? Please tell us about these unforeseen setbacks you have experienced.  

We also know that most of the sports and extracurricular activities you would have listed on your Activities Summary will have been cut short by the coronavirus. It’s also possible these activities have continued on, differently, in a virtual, socially distanced space. This is information we’d like to know too.  

If you choose to answer the Common App Coronavirus Question, ask yourself: “What information would help someone better understand my personal experience of this past year?” Know that any information you choose to share will help us make a more informed admission decision about your application to USC.  

Remember though, this question is optional. If you feel that you don’t need or want to share how your life has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, that’s okay too. As we began this post, all of our lives have been impacted by the coronavirus. As we always do, we will review all parts of your application in context whether you answer this coronavirus question or not. Whether you respond to this question or not, we will assume that you did your best to make the most of this pandemic that has so greatly affected our world.