Kim Lifton, president of Wow Writing Workshop.

COVID-19 has drastically changed the college experience, socially and economically, for students all across the country this year. Currently, the uncertainty about what college will look like in the fall of 2021 is weighing on high school seniors starting their application process.

Due to social distancing rules, most students are not applying using standardized testing such as the SAT/ACT. Therefore, the majority of colleges have gone test-optional for the Class of 2021. In addition, COVID-19 forced many high schools nationwide to go pass/fail last semester.

High school juniors and seniors who were planning to use their test scores and grades to strengthen their appeal to their schools of choice are now in a quandary. They hope to leverage their essays even more this year to help their applications stand out from the rest.

In order to avoid personal statements talking about what students did during COVID-19, for 2020-21 college applicants, the most popular universal college app, the Common App, has added a new 250-word optional prompt to address how COVID-19 has affected their life.

“While not required, the COVID prompt is an opportunity to share something about your own experience with colleges,” said Kim Lifton, president of Wow Writing Workshop. “No whining. No gloating. Just tell colleges what life was like before COVID-19, what it’s like now, how it’s changed and how you feel about it. Unlike personal statements, this isn’t much of a reflective exercise.”

This prompt can help round out an application during an exceptionally challenging year.

“Never in our lifetime has there been one unifying thing like this virus, and it impacts us all differently, but it affects the students applying to college much more than we think,” Lifton said. “Colleges don’t want you to feel pressured to manufacture experiences or demonstrate how resourceful you’ve been during the pandemic; it’s been hard enough living through these months without feeling like you’re doing something wrong. But it’s important to keep in mind that admission officers aren’t looking for extraordinary or profound stuff in this prompt. If you have it, feel free to use it, but that’s not what this is about.”

Wow Writing Workshop has been a leader in helping students navigate the college essay writing process for over a decade.

During COVID-19, Lifton has made the electronic version of her book, How to Write an Effective College Application Essay: The inside Scoop for Students, available to download for free at

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Libby is a writer for The Osprey Observer/The Christian Voice. She started as an intern in 2009 and upon finishing her internship, she was asked to stay on as a permanent writer for both papers. Libby lives in Brandon with her two rescue dogs, Olive and Bogey.