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When the average undergraduate student earns their degree at a four-year school, they’ll need to earn more than $22,000 to pay off their student debt, says FinAid.org.
But just one source of college scholarships – the free Fastweb scholarship database – lists 1.5 million scholarships worth $3.4 billion. If that money were used, it would be enough to pay off the entire debt of 150,000 students. Unfortunately, it’s not.
Part of the reason some scholarships go untapped is that some are so weirdly specific that almost nobody qualifies. Everybody knows there are scholarships for minorities and volunteerism and for writing essays, but how many people are lucky enough to be born to a Catholic family named Zolp? If you were, congrats: Your mere existence could entitle you to a free ride at Loyola University in Chicago.
To hear about this and some other bizarre scholarships, watch the video below. Then read on to learn about even more strange opportunities offered by quirky philanthropists.
Some of these scholarships are worth only $500 – not enough to pay for even one class. But every bit counts, especially if the alternative is a high-interest student loan that will take years to pay off. Apply for everything you might qualify for, and there’s no telling how much you might end up with…
- Surname scholarships. What’s in a name? Money.Like the Zolp scholarship, the Scarpinato Scholarship gives you a full ride – but this one doesn’t require a conversion to Catholicism. The name can come from birth or marriage, and it’s valid at Texas A&M University. The name Gatling will grant you $9,000 to $18,000 at North Carolina State. Van Valkenburg and variants can net you $1,000 good anywhere, and several names can put you in the good graces of Harvard, including Baxendale, Hudson, and Bright.
- Little people, tall people, and Klingon scholarships. You don’t need to be tall or a sci-fi geek for these: You need to be really short, really tall, or love language. Little People of America gives out annual scholarships of up to $1,000 to those under 4-foot-10 or members of their families. If none apply, the award may also go to anyone with a disability or someone with financial need; the Billy Barty Foundation has a similar scholarship. Tall Clubs International has a similar scholarship for women over 5-foot-10 and men over 6-2. Meanwhile, the Klingon Language Institute not only exists, but it gives out $500 a year to language students who don’t even need “familiarity with Klingon or other constructed languages.” More Trekkie scholarships are out there too. You can even win a $5,000 scholarship for writing about elves - or drawing them.
- Tasty scholarships. Getting the $5,000 American Association of Candy Technologists scholarship is like taking candy from a baby – or maybe a robot. You need a “demonstrated interest in confectionery technology” along with a decent GPA and at least sophomore status. And beef is not just for dinner, it’s also for class: The National Beef Ambassador Program awards up to $2,500 if you can give great speeches about the merits of cows – a debate with the winners of the $5,000 Vegetarian Resource Group scholarship is not required. Budding wine connoisseur? Junior-level science majors with no gripes about grapes can go after the American Society for Enology and Viticulture scholarship. Heck, you can even win $25,000 for making a peanut butter sandwich – jelly optional.
- Religious scholarships. Take a vow of poverty and, ironically enough, you could win the Monastic Scholarship at Naropa University. Studying American Buddhism at that school could also get you a $2,500 Frederick P. Lenz scholarship. Pagans aren’t left out either: The Carolina Spirit Quest scholarship is worth $500 for such students who live in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, or Washington, D.C. Hindu students studying business can win up to $10,000 with the Rattan L. Khosa scholarship at the University of Chicago.
- Doing-weird-things scholarships. That’s an awfully broad category, but where else are we going to mention $25,000 scholarships for people who dance for a living or $5,000 scholarships for people who wear Duck tape to prom? What about scholarships for people who compete in national marbles contests? There’s $7,500 scholarships for students who drink milk while playing sports, and the Gertrude J. Steppen scholarship for students who don’t drink and don’t play sports. There’s a scholarship for chaste North Carolina girls who live on campus without a car and have no other financial aid. And one that Stacy mentioned in the above video, a $2,000 scholarship for those with a talent for duck-calling.
The bottom line? There’s a scholarship opportunity for everyone, so don’t assume you can’t find one. Apply for every opportunity where you meet the basic criteria or even come close – many scholarships have an order of preference, and if nobody else applies you may win by default. And don’t forget that scholarships aren’t the only way to lower the cost of college: check out 6 Tips to Pay Less for a College Degree.