Make notes now to share your unique experience.

The impact of the coronavirus on the lives of high school students can’t be denied. The transition to online learning and a series of cancellations—spring sports, musicals and concerts, plus proms, honor society inductions, SAT/ACT exams and more has upended their lives. Some will face life in quarantine, a suddenly unemployed parent and/or a positive test for someone they know. Within these experiences is a story, each unique in its own way. And the basis of a college admissions essay.

CoronavirusThe majority of this fall’s college applicants will write about COVID-19 in some way. As a college essay and admissions coach, I know how personalizing a common experience makes an essay stand out to an admissions officer. Below is my guide for high school students on how to use their coronavirus experience to create a memorable essay.

Chronicle the experience Now is the time to make notes, journal or cut videos to record your life in these unprecedented times. Because the impact of this experience is the source material for your college essay. The key is in the details.

You have options on how to get it all down—typing into Notes, Word or Pages, making voice recordings, creating videos, chronicling on social media via posts or videos, or going completely old-school and writing by hand, maybe even in a journal. It can be one format or a mix. The point is to record your experiences somewhere, on a regular basis, whether daily, weekly, monthly, depending upon what feels comfortable for you.

By documenting what’s in your head in some way, you’ll have an archive to pull from, helping you recall what happened and even how you felt. Because things are changing fast, as is your life, and the cancellation of in-person classes for a week or two has now turned into a month or more. When the first recommendations went out about washing your hands for 20 seconds and sneezing/coughing into your elbow, you could still roam freely, you knew no one who had the virus. Then days or weeks later, you couldn’t hang out with your friends or visit your grandparents and your mom complained she couldn’t find toilet paper anywhere. Those early days are probably a blur right now.

Record your feelings, thoughts and perspectives Recounting all the details also means making note of your feelings, what you’re thinking, the emotions you’re experiencing. Because these have probably been evolving as well. In your essay you will want to share how these events impacted you. You might feel frustrated or mad that your spring season/performance was canceled. Confused as to why the guidelines for how many people you can hang out with keep changing. Worried about your parent or other relative who works in a hospital. Tuning into your emotions now and recording them will help. It may have the added benefit of relieving some of your anxiety, stress and/or fear as you identify what you’re feeling, making it easier to talk with your family or friends.

Plan when to start You may already know the angle you want to use for your essay. Or, with the impact of the virus continuing to develop in your community, you want more time to figure it out. That could mean waiting until you receive a final word on when your school will open up again or after someone you know with the virus fully recovers. It could be that you need to gain a clearer view of the financial impact on your family or learning what additional limitations your town or state will impose. That’s why it’s important to record what it feels like to live in this new environment.

Take advantage of the time you have now This is a confusing time and it can feel scary because we don’t have an end date for when life will feel normal again or what the new normal will look like. But taking advantage of the extra time available to you now offers an opportunity to do preliminary work on your essay: thinking about how you want to approach it, outlining it or attempting a first draft.

What’s happening around and within you is the background material you’ll need to write your essay, whenever you’re ready to start. This is your coronavirus story and only you can tell it.