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Offbeat ways to pay for college
Scholarships offered for left-handed people, students named Zolp, and Trekkies who speak Klingon.
March 31, 2004: 4:39 PM EST
By Leslie Haggin Geary, CNN/Money staff writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Like many college students, Jeannie Miller relies on scholarship money to help pay her tuition.

Miller, a zoology major at Juniata College in Pennsylvania, has been pretty skilled at getting free money. She gets one scholarship for her good grades. There's another from AmeriCorps for her volunteer work last summer participating in a wild-fire education program.

And then there's the $1,000 Miller gets for being left-handed, as a recipient of Juniata's Buckley Scholarship.

The prize is a gift of Mary Francis Buckley, a southpaw Juniata alumna who met her husband, Frederick, when he also attended the college back in the 1920s.

"They were paired together as tennis partners because they were both left-handed, then fell in love," says Miller, 23. "When he died, her way to memorialize him was to provide a scholarship to Juniata. It's kind of fun."

Welcome to the world of unusual scholarships. Students no longer need the traditional attributes (e.g. brains or athletic prowess) to get money for college. Sometimes, they just have to have the right name.

Just ask Alice and Bernard Zolp. Their four kids attended Loyola University in the 1980s without paying a dime, and now their grandson does, too, thanks to the school's Zolp Scholarship.

The grant provides full tuition for four years to any Catholic student whose last name is Zolp. (To qualify, the name Zolp needs to appear on a student's birth and confirmation certificates.)

"There was no way I could have given them a college education without it," says Alice of the scholarship, which was established by Father Zolp, a Catholic priest who attended Loyola.

Free money for the taking

To find money for college, start by talking to the pros.

High school guidance counselors or college financial aid departments often have a wealth of information. The Internet also makes it easier than ever to find cash. Free search engines on and the College Board's Web site, for example, let students match personal profiles against hundreds of thousands of scholarships.

No matter what kind of scholarship or service you consider, traditional or offbeat, be wary of those that require you to pay money upfront to find or obtain an award, says Mark Kantrowitz, founder of

"If they charge an application first, then something's probably not on the up-and-up," he says. "Scholarships are about giving away money, not charging it."

Sadly, too many families get suckered by con artists. According to one estimate from National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, 350,000 people are cheated out of $5 million in scholarship scams each year. (For more about scholarship scams, click here.)

Watch out for offers that "guarantee" a prize, too. Like all legitimate contests, there will be winners and losers. No reputable scholarship will promise rewards to all.

Duct tape to the prom

You can maximize your scholarship chances, especially if you've got a special talent, by looking for unusual scholarships.

Consider the Duck Brand Duct Tape "Stuck at the Prom Contest." Creative high school couples who attend a prom wearing attire fashioned out of duct tape can win up to $2,500 each. Past winners have created almost museum-worthy outfits.

As it turns out, duct tape comes in a slew of colors -- including fluorescent and neutral hues -- and students may enter one of three "divisions:" traditional prom attire, theme/costume wear or "just Plain Silver" attire. Check out the Stuck at the Prom Contest Web site.

If you'd rather sport natural fibers consider the National Make it Yourself From Wool Competition. It awards $1,000 college scholarships for students who create especially stylish wool garments. The contest was first founded in 1947 in Utah and has since expanded to various states.

Meanwhile, linguaphiles (and Star Trek fans) can make their passion pay off by entering the Klingon Language Institute's $500 scholarship contest. Designed to "recognize and encourage scholarship in fields of language" the prize is awarded to one graduate and one undergraduate student majoring in languages, though familiarity with Klingon isn't a requirement to win.

Awards and Prizes

Maybe you're more adept at communicating with animals. The Chick and Sophie Major Memorial Duck Calling Contest gives out a $1,500 scholarship (and several runner-up prizes) to any high school senior who can call a duck. Specifically, winners must be proficient in four calls: hailing, feeding, comeback and mating calls. For more information contact the Stuggart, Ark., Chamber of Commerce, click here.

It may pay to follow in your ancestors' path, too. Hood College in Frederick, Md., has a heritage scholarship that lets incoming freshmen pay the same first-year tuition as their parents or grandparents paid. This year, freshman Rebecca DuPont is paying $350 vs. $19,940 -- just as her grandmother did back in 1948.

Don't have a special skill? Then how about natural attributes? Tall Clubs International, for example, offers a $1,000 scholarship for women who are at least 5' 10" and men who are at least 6 '2".

Not too tall? Keep looking. There are scholarships for every passion, skill, habit, quirk -- and quack  Top of page

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