Tips for College Scholarship Applications in the Age of COVID | Youth on Course

Tips for College Scholarship Applications in the Age of COVID

It’s the time of year every high school student both counts down to, but also dreads – it’s College Application Season.

Whether you are applying for college or applying for college scholarships, the process can feel a bit daunting. Long essays, short essays, letters of recommendation, tax return information, FASFA forms, SAT/ACT scores, interviews – the list of demands for applications only seem to get longer every year, and this year will be unique due to the pandemic.

So how can you make it easier? And how can you make sure your application is a standout?

Each year, Youth on Course awards roughly $250,000 in college scholarships to deserving high school seniors planning to attend a four-year college or university. We get hundreds of applications each year, so when it comes to scholarship applications, we have seen it all.

Here are some tips and tricks from Youth on Course for applying for college scholarships to help make the application a little bit easier and hopefully more successful.



As stressful as it always is for students applying to college, this year it’s all that — and then some — for the admissions officials trying to decide whether to admit them. Because of the pandemic, many students will be applying without standardized test scores and several other metrics admissions officers at selective schools have long relied on, leaving colleges scrambling to figure out what else they might consider instead.

Keep in mind:

  • Think twice before you title your essay “How I Spent My COVID-19 Staycation.” Your essays and letters of recommendation will get a closer look than normal this year.
  • Be prepared for virtual interviews.
  • Schools understand the lack of extracurricular activities in 2020, so don’t fret.
  • Don’t panic if you do not have all of your necessary test scores – schools are anticipating that.

Learn more here.


Local and small scholarships are less likely to be applied for leaving the door wide open for you to be chosen. Work with a teacher or counselor at your school to identify small and local scholarships that you may be qualified for. Every dollar counts!


If you have a passion, see if there is a scholarship in that field! Many may not think of golf as a way to get college scholarships unless they are playing for a D1 school, but there are tons of college scholarships related to golf! There are also scholarships for people who enjoy music, cooking, zombies, coding, video gaming, farming, knitting – just about anything you can think of! Think outside of the box when applying for college scholarships and find something fun that relates to you and your interests.


The harder the application process is, the less likely people will actually finish it, which means if you finish it you will have that much greater chance of getting the scholarship. Many scholarships go unclaimed simply because students don’t bother to finish all the steps! (On that note – make sure when applying for the Youth on Course scholarship you hit “submit” at the very end!)


The majority of applications are going to ask you for the same types of information. Gather up these documents in both print (make several copies!) and digital form (save as both PDF and JPEG) and store them in an organized folder. Having these documents organized and handy in various formats will make the process go by a lot faster than searching through files or papers for that one document over and over again.

Documents to have ready:
– SAT/ACT Scores (if you have them)
– High school transcript
– College acceptance letter (some do not require it – but if you have been accepted, have it ready)
– Income verification documents
– Nice headshot of you (No selfies! We will get into this later)

Information to have ready (put these in a Word document to make it easy to copy and paste!):
– High school name and physical address
– Your essays! Many of the college scholarship essays are similar to each other. Work with a teacher or guidance counselor at school to identify common essay questions and get them ready before applying. But don’t forget to change out some words and adapt each essay for the specific application!


College scholarship committees may look at every little detail that you provide in order to pick the best applicant. This means that you need to think of every little detail too! Here are some little things you may not have thought of that can make a difference in your application selection:

– Email address: Time to get rid of and upgrade to – having a silly email address is a small detail, but it can potentially stand out in a negative way.

– Headshot/photo: Some applications (including the Youth on Course scholarship application) ask for a photo of you. While this is often an optional field, it can help the selection committee better remember your application. If at all possible, avoid using a selfie for your photo and have a friend or family member take a photo of you against a plain wall. Avoid certain clothing – especially low cut tops or shirts with large or offensive print on them. A good rule of thumb is “would my Grandma or Grandpa put this photo of me on their refrigerator?” if the answer is no – avoid using the photo.

– Voicemail message: Make sure that you clearly state your name in your voicemail box. It could be possible that a scholarship group is trying to get a hold of you to schedule an interview or give you an award, and they won’t want to leave a message on an unidentified machine. Make sure you sound professional and try something like “You have reached the voicemail of __(name)___, I am not available right now to take your call – please leave me a message and I will get back to you shortly.”


The majority of college scholarships will have you write an essay or at the least a little bit about yourself (although not all require essays and you should apply for those as well!). The best thing that you can do when writing an essay is write from the heart. Avoid using quotes – Your essay should be about you. The best essays are unique and stand out from the competition, so be original and use your own words. When you write from the heart, the reader will be able to tell – and will be drawn to your story. If you don’t find the essay question particularly inspiring, try and draw it back to something that does inspire you. Just remember, the reader wants to get to know you and what makes you who you are! This is your time to shine!


Applying for scholarships can be stressful and nerve-wracking. These are just some small things to help you better prepare. Getting yourself ready ahead of the application period can help you focus your attention on the essay and putting your best foot forward in an interview. And don’t ever be afraid to ask for help! Parents/guardians, teachers, older siblings, cousins or school counselors can be great resources from finding scholarships, to catching spelling errors.

2021 scholarship applications will be accepted Nov. 23, 2020 – Feb. 15, 2021.