Weird College Scholarships Pay Thousands

Last Updated Dec 4, 2010 10:10 AM EST

Worried about how you're going to pay for college? FastWeb, a free online college scholarship service, suggests that you tell your student to channel his or her inner weirdo. Weird and off-kilter scholarships can pay thousands of dollars.

What do we mean when we say 'weird' scholarships? My personal favorite -- and one of the most lucrative -- is Duck brand duct tape's "Stuck at the Prom" scholarship competition. The kids in this photo are last year's winners. You can see the couple who took second place below.

It's worth mentioning that this contest once paid a top prize of $3,000, but Duck boosted the prizes for 2011. First place winners in the upcoming competition will score $5,000; second prize will nab you a neat $3,000. Third-place winners will take home $2,000. (Duck also gives money to the high schools that host the winners--a good incentive not to turn kids away because they're wearing clothes made out of tape.)

What do you have to do to win? Design, make and wear a prom outfit completely out of Duck duct tape. (It comes in designer colors!) You can't enter the 2011 contest until March, but a company spokeswoman says that most kids start planning their prom outfits now.

"The outfits are pretty elaborate," says spokeswoman Lisa Schwan. "A lot of students start planning over winter break."

Indeed, some of the past contenders used two-dozen rolls of tape in colors ranging from hot-pink to camouflage.

Other weird scholarships?

FastWeb has compiled a list of 15 that it considers the strangest, including scholarships for tall people, parapsychologists and science fiction writers. The list also includes an award for inventors that will pay $10,000 for undergraduate students and $15,000 for graduate students.

You'll need to sign up for FastWeb if you want to read the whole list. If you've got a kid contemplating college, it's well worth it. The downside to FastWeb is that it makes you wade through a fair number of college-related advertisements. But that's a relatively small price to pay for the otherwise free service, which allows you to plug your student's information into a computerized search engine that will keep spitting out scholarship ideas week after week. Most of these scholarships are the privately-funded type that are otherwise challenging to find.

For instance, if your child is studying "vacuum coating" there's a $2,500 scholarship that could have his or her name on it. According to FastWeb, only 20 kids applied for this scholarship last year, so the odds of winning are great. Past winners can re-apply.

My FastWeb home page (I signed up to test the service) has dozens of scholarships that don't rank among the top 15 weirdest scholarships, but are nonetheless pretty unusual. Consider, for example, the $25,000 "Healthy Respect Win-Win Plus" series of scholarships for those writing essays or doing videos on a listed group of topics; the $1,000 "Dare Mighty Things" scholarship for kids exploring areas unrelated to their major of study; and the Castle Ink-Paperless scholarship, that gives $1,000 to avid recyclers.

The nice thing about these scholarships is that they're not reserved solely for brainiacs and low-income kids. Anyone with the time and interest can apply.

If you've got a senior in high school, financial aid applications should be completed in January. The time to start investigating these off-beat scholarships is now.

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