Wondering how to write about the tumultuous events of 2020 in your application essays? [Show summary]
Accepted Founder Linda Abraham offers a framework for discussing COVID-19, the events of 2020, and their impact on your life in your undergraduate or graduate program applications.
Your application should include information about your experience of and response to COVID-19 and the other events of 2020, whether or not you are explicitly asked for it. [Show Notes]
I want to address something that I’ve been thinking a lot about. I think that my topic is not only of concern to me; I strongly suspect it’s of concern to you, too, and something that’s on everyone’s mind: how to deal with COVID and the tumultuous year 2020.
.It’s a pretty big topic, isn’t it? I’m going to narrow my topic a little bit. I have neither a cure nor a preventive vaccine for the disease. I also don’t have cures for the other ills that have struck the world this year. I’m going to suggest how you should address these events in your application, regardless of whether you are applying to undergraduate or graduate programs, or if you’re asked about COVID and year 2020 in an essay or in an interview (or in a video interview).
How should you address COVID and the other events of 2020 in your application? There’s two aspects to the question, to any COVID or 2020 kind of question, or any of the questions that we’re dealing with right now. The first part of it is, how have you been affected? And the second one is, how have you responded? In other words, how have you acted to address or alleviate the pain, stress, and suffering of others?
How to address COVID-19 in your application [2:37]
Let’s deal first with COVID, which I think is an overarching theme for this year. There are plenty of lemons with COVID. There’re plenty of difficulties. There’s plenty of pain. There’s plenty of illness, and death. I hope it’s not true, but it’s quite possible that you or a loved one has had COVID, and maybe you didn’t have a light case. Maybe you were sick for several weeks. Maybe you were unemployed or furloughed for all or part of the time since the first shutdown in March.
Moving more specifically to admissions, many of you have experienced the inability to take tests when you planned to take them, especially if you were trying to take the MCAT in March, April, May, or most of June. Perhaps you’ve had planned volunteer activities canceled, or your internships postponed or moved online. Maybe you had classes that you wanted to take for grades to boost your GPA and suddenly, they’re pass/fail because that’s what happened to a lot of courses in the spring. Maybe you are taking classes online via Zoom when you really would do much better in an in-person, traditional classroom environment. That’s certainly happening to tons and tons of people. So there are lemons there.
Perhaps you’re stagnating at work because of reduced opportunity for advancement and interesting projects. And I think everybody is dealing with loneliness and monotony and the sameness of not going out. I am above the age where I’m not supposed to go into stores and go into public places. But I know many young people, either out of an abundance of caution, concern for their relatives, or their own health conditions, are also limited in where they go. And everybody is more limited than they were a year ago.
Is there any lemonade to be made from this? Yes, there actually is. It provides enormous opportunity for community involvement, even with social distancing. What are the opportunities? It can be contact tracing, suicide prevention, an outdoor activity with a youth group that you’re very committed to, delivering food to the vulnerable, organizing organizations to reduce food insecurity in a time of high unemployment and homelessness. Any of these activities would show you taking initiative and assuming responsibility in your community or in society for cultural and societal problems. There are opportunities for initiative and leadership.
There’s also the reality that some parts of the economy, particularly tech, are booming. Again, there’s opportunity in tech, especially for the entrepreneurially inclined. When you look at how you have been affected by corona, or if you’re asked, “How have you been affected?” you don’t have to celebrate the opportunities. But you can say, “I took the initiative to do X, Y, and Z because I saw what was going on.” And you should do that.
How to Address the Events of 2020 in Your Application [5:25]
What about the election? Whatever your political views (I’m not going to go into mine, and this is not going to be a campaign thing at all; I’m talking about the US election, which is coming up in November), the election provides opportunity for civic involvement, initiative, and leadership. You do have to stay away from preaching your politics. But whatever cause or candidate you decide to support, your opinions will be reflected there. And that’s okay. The main point, again, is to show leadership, impact, and a caring service-oriented perspective. Whether you raise money for a cause or candidate, you get out the vote, or you organize events, all those are in response to the time that we are living in. And they could be even in response to multiple events of this year.
There also were our share of natural disasters not including COVID. There were the hurricanes in the Southeast, which had a very active hurricane season. There also were the fires in the West. I live in Los Angeles, and many days, I looked out my window and it was entirely gray. There was no blue in the sky whatsoever. And no, there were no clouds either. It’s summertime here. If you were affected by these events or perhaps by other natural disasters that I just haven’t mentioned, you can discuss that.
But you can also talk about how you helped people evacuate a neighborhood that was threatened by fire. Maybe you housed a family that was temporarily homeless due to damage to their home either because of fire, or evacuation, or hurricanes. There’s all kinds of ways. Perhaps you organized a food drive or a toy drive or whatever kind of drive to help people affected by these natural disasters. Again, that shows you are a caring member of society with organizational ability and initiative.
It depends on what question is asked of you and then, also, what you’re aiming for. But if you’re asked about your response to COVID and the events of 2020, these are all the kinds of things that you want to mention. It should not just be what befell you, but what you also did, initiated, acted.
And then, of course, you can’t talk about 2020 without the tragic murder of George Floyd and the increased focus on social justice and diversity and inclusion throughout American society, if you’re in the United States. Again, there are two aspects to this. Are you a member of a group that has felt the sting of discrimination, prejudice, or lack of justice? And then the other part is, whether you are a member of such a group or not, have you taken steps to improve diversity and inclusion of different underrepresented minorities, whether defined by ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or another minority status? This can be in your personal life or personal initiatives that you’ve undertaken. It can be reflected in community service commitments that you’ve made or initiatives that you’ve undertaken, or workplace initiatives, if you’re out of school and already working.
Reframing COVID-19 and 2020 [8:35]
2020 has been an extraordinarily difficult year. And I somehow don’t think it’s going to get a lot easier in the next three months. As I’m recording this podcast, it’s the end of September. It’s a year, I think, overarchingly defined by the COVID pandemic and the resulting recession. And that has been exacerbated by the other strains that I touched on and probably some things that I’m not even mentioning.
However, if you’re asked in your application about your response to COVID or how you were affected by COVID or how you were affected by the events of 2020, the key elements in your response to such a question, whether in an interview or in an essay, remain the same. Discuss how you were affected. In other words, when were you an object of events that were out of your control. Perhaps your business or your family business was damaged by the civil unrest. Perhaps you were sick or you lost a loved one. You can discuss that. That’s perfectly legitimate. However, you should talk more about how you responded. When have you led, initiated, and made a difference in light of this very difficult year and in light of these very, very difficult events that we’ve been dealing with? You want to focus on the times when you’ve been a subject in the story of 2020, not the object — the lead actor in an unfolding play, in the developing events of this year, and basically a person of impact and consequence.
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