Good News! On Monday, 300+ Admissions Deans responded to Covid 19 and released a statement, “What We Care about in this Time of Crisis: A Collective Statement from College Admission Deans,” explaining what they care about during this global pandemic. I summarize below, but I encourage you to read the entire statement: 

  1. Self-care: They recognize that you might be struggling and feeling overwhelmed by all that’s happening in the world around you right now, and you might even be feeling a sense of loss or maybe you’re just trying to hang on and get by. They encourage you to be gentle with yourself and take care of yourself.
  2. Academic Work: They recognize you’ve likely faced challenges with grades, access to technology, standardized testing, and that you’ve possibly had a number of obstacles. They offer reassurance that they’ll evaluate you and your application within the context of your resources and support available to you.
  3. Service and Contributions to Others: They value your community service if you are in a safe position to do so, but they recognize that many of you won’t be able to go out and be “hands-on” in your service. Some might want to respond to the needs of pandemic, while others might want to contribute to the calls to protect the environment or battle racial injustice. Their words: “Our interest is not in whether students created a new project or demonstrated leadership during this period. We, emphatically, do not seek to create a competitive public service “Olympics” in response to this pandemic. What matters to us is whether students’ contribution or service is authentic and meaningful to them and to others…”
  4. Family Contributions: Family obligations have long been recognized and held in high regard in college admissions, but now that need to “be there” for your family is possibly greater than ever. You might be helping with younger siblings or caring for grandparents or elderly relatives. Or you might need to work to help with family income. Whatever your family responsibilities are, be sure to include them in your application!
  5. Extracurricular and Summer Activities: They know your summer plans have more than likely been affected by the pandemic, and many jobs, internships, and classes have been cancelled as a result. They say they’ve never had any expectations of what kinds of activities you’ve chosen to do, and now more than ever, they know that your circumstances will create and allow for differing options. As always, work and family responsibilities will be valued in your application.

Reporting Information That’s Important to Students and to the Deans

their words: “we encourage students to communicate any factors specific to their circumstances that impeded their academic performance. Those factors might include, for example, lack of access to the internet, no quiet place to study, or the various family responsibilities described above.”  

It’s helpful for them to know how any of these circumstances might have impacted your academic performance as they evaluate your application, so don’t hesitate to share.

My Thoughts

As many of you know well, I’ve spent a lot of time and wordspace through my newsletters, my book, on reddit, instagram, and twitter, and with just a lot of talk about college admissions and how admissions deans evaluate extracurriculars and activities. I’m constantly reading what they share and say, and this statement doesn’t really say anything new that I hadn’t heard before, BUT I’m so happy they took the time collectively to state specifically what matters to them in this response to Covid 19. And, of course, it’s especially important for applicants and their families to understand, now more than ever, the importance of self-care and family and community involvement, but I hope this is a tide that is turning more permanently — that families and students and consultants and counselors and well-meaning-adults-who-give-advice will finally recognize that there is no magic formula for your activities and ECs to create the golden ticket to college admissions.  

Here’s what I say in my book:

“Be a Star

I mean colleges don’t want you obsessing over the most impressive, superhuman  extracurriculars possible. They aren’t looking for you to have any particular kind of ECs. They want to know what gets you interested and involved. High school is a time for you to learn about yourself and what intrigues, interests, and excites you. Don’t box yourself in, thinking that there are only a few things you should be doing. As such — and I acknowledge I’m going against the grain here — my philosophy for helping kids with extracurriculars is all about being star-shaped. I don’t actually recommend having one big “spike,” meaning a single extracurricular you devote all your time to, though I recognize that’s the trendy advice these days, nor do I recommend trying to pursue every single extra-curricular you can because you feel like you need to check off a laundry list of activities for the “resume booster club” so you can be “well-rounded.” Instead, shoot for being kinda well-rounded with some spikes — like a star — by pursuing four or five activities that interest and excite you. But honestly, you do you. Be who you are. That’s what colleges want. And if being you means having one big spike or being a perfectly round ball, then that’s totally fine.”

Is it Good Enough?

If you’re asking yourself if your ECs and Activities are “good enough,” ask yourself: Is it interesting to you? Is it something that you can get behind and feel like what you are doing is worthwhile or maybe even necessary? If so, yes, it can be good for your application. If not, then no. Here’s what I’ve found: If you’re worried about the amazing specialness of an activity or opportunity, that means you’re really not that into it. The lack of interest is what makes that particular EC nothing special for you, and you’d be better off finding something else. An AO from the University of Chicago once told me, “As soon as you figure out what you think we’re looking for, we’re gonna change our mind.” Colleges want to see the reflection of who you are and what interests you, not what you are trying to guess that they want you to do.

I love what MIT Admissions says about extracurricular activities:

“Some students feel so much pressure to get into the “right” college that they want to make sure they do everything right—down to their extracurricular activities. Fortunately, the only right answer is to do what’s right for you—not what you think is right for us.

Choose your activities because they delight, intrigue, and challenge you, not because you think they’ll look impressive on your application. Go out of your way to find projects, activities, and experiences that stimulate your creativity and leadership, that connect you with peers and adults who bring out your best, and that please you so much that you don’t mind the work involved. Some students find room for many activities; others prefer to concentrate on just a few. Either way, the test for any extracurricular should be whether it makes you happy—whether it feels right for you.

College is not a costume party; you’re not supposed to come dressed as someone else. College is an intense, irreplaceable four-year opportunity to become more yourself than you’ve ever been. What you need to show us is that you’re ready to try.” (emphasis mine)

More of My Thoughts:

Keep in mind that basically anything that you do outside of class work, homework, and test prep is considered an activity. That includes  jobs, family and home responsibilities, elderly or child care, personal projects, interests, and hobbies, and independent research, in addition to the more typical research, internships, and in and out of school community service, clubs, and sports.  

The most important thing is to be involved in a few things that interest and speak to you. 

So get involved. 

Get involved with your life.

Read, read, and read some more. Get a real teenager job. Take care of yourself. Exercise. Walk – a lot. Learn about mindfulness and meditation and yoga. Learn stuff that helps brain development, like an instrument and a language. Take up a hobby like knitting, origami, historical research, or whatever strikes your fancy. Do more than schoolwork, social media, video games, and Netflix binging — not that there’s anything wrong with any of that, there just needs to be a balance. Take care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. 

Get involved with your family.

Be a leader in your family. Organize game night. Cook dinner for your family. Wash dishes. Babysit your siblings. Help with grandparent care. 

Get involved with your school.

Join a club or two, or start one. Or not. Just do something independent, like make a point to sit with someone new at lunch once a week, especially looking for the kids who are alone.  You can figure out what your school needs and what skills and talents you have to contribute. 

Get involved with your community.

Make sandwiches at a food bank. Play games or music at a retirement home. Or write down their life stories and go back and present them in song or poem. Make goody bags with water and nuts for the homeless on the corner and pass them out. Walk dogs or pet kittens at the animal shelter. Look around your community and figure out what the needs are, then begin to work on one. 

Some Ideas for Activities during Covid 19:

As the statement from the 300+ Admissions Deans in their response to Covid 19 says, self-care is essential. And know that, it’s ok to just “get by” for now, to play video games, catch up on movies, while away a few hours on Twitch, YouTube or TikTok for hours on end, but I also encourage you to interact with your family and take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally.  

Eventually you might even find yourself getting a little bored. Boredom can lead to great discoverie, so allow it to happen. And if you start looking for something else to do, I suggest a personal project. I always suggest to my juniors that they use the summer before senior year to get a job and work on a personal project. So, this is an opportunity for you to take the time to learn about and do some of the things that you just don’t have time to do during your “normal, non-pandemic” busy life.

Read, Read, Read

Reread your favorite books or read books you haven’t had a chance to read before. If you’re looking for suggestions, try Between the World and Me, I’m Not Dying with You tonight, Just Mercy, Tess of the D’urbervilles, Rebecca, Fahrenheit 451, or anything by William Faulkner, Toni Morrison, John Steinbeck, Kurt Vonnegut, Ralph Ellison, or Jane Austen.  I know my kids loved Robert Jordan when they were your age. If you’re interested in the history of the US and racial and social justice, I have a list of books linked in my post about Racial Justice and College Admissions.

By the way, the best way to become a strong writer is to read — a lot. Reading will improve your college essays, your standardized test scores, and your grades in every class — believe it or not.

Family Time and Family Responsibilities
  • Family History Project — Collect family stories, photos, and documents to create a scrapbook for your family to keep
  • Become a Chef — Learn to follow recipes and create homemade meals
  • Chilling with Chores — Do dishes and laundry without your parents asking you. These are the kind of tasks you can do with mindfulness by focusing on the task, or you can stick on some headphones or turn up the speakers and have a big ole Chore Dance Party.
  • Caring for and Connecting with The Elderly — Call and FaceTime with grandparents and the elderly in your life. They will be lonely and disconnected right now, and will need you more than ever. We’ve been setting up family video chat times so everyone can catch up and the grandparents don’t have to be so isolated
  • Family Game Night — Bond your family and learn new games or bring out the old favorites
New Hobbies and Projects
  • Pursue a hobby you haven’t had time to explore before
    • Teach yourself Italian or another language that piques your interest
    •  Learn an instrument like guitar and ukulele
    •  Learn about Astronomy, Martial Arts, Gardening, or Chess
    •  This is your chance to explore areas you haven’t given yourself time to explore or you can fine    tune some skills you’ve been working on all along.
  • Take an Online Class: Ed X, YouTube tutorials, MOOCS, Coursera
  • Learn Marketable skills: Learn to code through Udacity, Learn Excel — if you can help someone with an Excel Spreadsheet, you will forever be on their good side.
Get Creative

Find your artistic side. Draw, Sing, Cartoon, Dance, Paint, Collage, Write plays, Play and Write Music, Stories, or Operas. I’m starting to see lots of rainbows pop up on windows in our neighborhood. Maybe add to that rainbow gallery. 

Get Outside (Sunshine and Green Bathing are both great ways to stay healthy!)

Wear a mask, sit in the sun, take walks, bike rides, jogs (keep 6 feet spacing between you and others)

Community Service and Volunteer — You will need to talk to your parents about these if they require you to leave your house. Remember to keep your health and safety a priority.
  • Childcare for people who must work
  • Errands for the Elderly — make grocery store and pharmacy runs for those who shouldn’t be out and about
  • Help out at food banks. Many people have recently lost jobs and need back up food
  • Hand out food or comfort bags to the homeless 
  • Food banks are looking for volunteers
  • See if animal shelters need assistance
  • Look for ways to give back online. Small businesses are needing more tech support than ever. So, if you have web skills, see if you can find a useful way to share them. 
  • An idea: I’m wondering if there could be some way to provide chats/games/songs/music to the elderly who are by themselves. Maybe get in touch with a retirement home or center and ask about ways to organize zoom sessions to play your violin, piano, or do an online BINGO game. I know someone who does online art classes with the elderly. 
Get a Job 

If you need to or want to work outside the home and if your parents and you are comfortable with your being in that setting, then a job is a great addition to, not only your family income (or your own), but also to your college application.


Write. Write. Write. And write some more. I encourage you to find your voice while keeping a record of what’s happening in our world right now. These are truly historic times, and your children and grandchildren will treasure your thoughts and reflections about your 2020 experiences as a teen. Also, bonus for juniors — these diaries and journals will help you find your voice and give you reflections and thoughts to turn to when you begin to write those essays.


Make a photo journal of our changed scenery. As you walk around town, snap photos of empty spaces, posted signs, long lines, empty shelves, masks, protests, or whatever you see around you. This will be a great way to document for yourself, your family, and others. 

And remember it’s ok to just be

Sit still. Think. Chill and relax. As we’ve all heard over and over (because it’s so true), these are unprecedented circumstances and we need to just be with ourselves to process and understand what’s happening to us and our families and our friends and our schools and our neighbors and our cities and towns. Sometimes we just need to sit and breathe.