Guidance to Faculty Representatives and Applicants Regarding COVID-19

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The Foundation is well aware that the disruption caused by COVID-19 is likely to create additional concerns about how applicants will be evaluated in the coming selection cycles.  We have prepared the following guidance to help.  Please remember that this situation is evolving and we may update this advice as necessary.  

Leadership & Service Opportunities:

We assume the vast majority of applicants will be in stasis for Spring and Summer of 2020:  campus and community leadership opportunities cancelled, volunteer activities limited and internships or other employment either virtual or non-existent.  We expect applicants to focus on completing their coursework and maintaining some contact with their leadership and service organizations, but little else. 

For the majority of applicants in this category, your materials will not need to go into much detail regarding the disruptions caused by COVID-19.  They are explicable and universal.  Our readers will be instructed that a baseline self-quarantine for spring and summer 2020 is expected of all applicants.  While letter writers and the applicant can discuss these disruptions in their materials, it is probably not necessary and may be counterproductive.  Using limited application space to discuss issues that are identical to most other applications is not persuasive and could take space away from the very experiences that make an applicant compelling and interesting.  

Some applicants - such as those in the military or students who work on health or food security issues - may have expanded opportunities for leadership and service.  Applicants who have previously worked with Black Lives Matter, on matters of civil rights or criminal justice reform may also have had more opportunities for leadership and service than typical.  Conversely, those applicants with pre-existing health conditions, family obligations, limited internet access or housing insecurity might have even further reduced opportunities for leadership and service.  These applicants will need to provide additional information - either in the supporting letters or their materials - to ensure we adequately understand their circumstances.  
Applicants should work directly with faculty advisers and letter writers to ensure these variations are adequately covered in their materials. Straightforward pieces of information (e.g. the applicant has a medical condition that required them to observe quarantine for a longer period than most) can best be conveyed in the nominating letter - thus allowing the applicant the ability to discuss other items in their application if they wish.  Likewise, applicants who were able to engage in leadership and service projects during the pandemic can discuss with their advisers and letter writers how best to present those items.  Our readers do have the ability to assign bonus points for these activities.  

Likelihood of Academic Success:

The Truman Foundation is generally less concerned with GPA than we are that an applicant's current academic performance is likely to secure them a spot at the graduate school identified in Question 11.  We are assuming that most schools have either mandated or offered pass/fail grading for the Spring 2020 semester.  Thus, a decision to take a semester pass/fail is unlikely to significantly change our assessment.

Some students may feel that an additional semester of grades was critical to bolstering their case for graduate school.  This concern may be particularly acute for those students who had weaker grades during their first year.  In that case, you should work with both your faculty adviser and the author of your academic letter of recommendation to address these issues in their letters.  

Additional Information in Question 14:

We provide space in Question 14 to discuss additional information that may be helpful to our readers.  For many of you, there may be a desire to discuss COVID-19 and the impact it has had in this space.  We would caution you to use this space wisely.  While COVID-19 represents a serious impact on the lives of everyone, unless you are able to write something unique in this space, you might wish to use it to discuss other matters that are more germane to your overall application.  Again, it is best to consult with your advisers as well as follow the guidance provided on our  website  on our twitter feed.

Leaves of Absence:

Students who have elected to take a leave of absence may still be nominated so long as the institution is willing to do so.  Please determine if the leave of absence will result in a change to the student's graduation date and adjust the timing of the application accordingly.  Students who are graduating in three (or fewer) years would apply in their final year.

Civil Disobedience:

We have had several inquiries regarding what impact arrest or citation for civil disobedience might have on a Truman application. We have had a number of applicants and Scholars involved in protest activities - we have also had a number of applicants and Scholars who have had arrests and convictions on other matters.  We do not consider such things a barrier to application - indeed in some situations such activities have been integral to an applicant's journey in public service.  Discussion of such matters in application materials is subject to many considerations.  Faculty Advisors should contact Tara Yglesias for guidance.

We wish you the best of luck navigating these issues as well as working on your future Truman application.  Please direct any questions to your Faculty Adviser or contact Tara Yglesias.

Additional Materials:

Faculty Representatives who were unable to attend the Foundation's webinar can contact Tara Yglesias for access to the recording.  Applicants can review a webinar here.