How would you like to score some college scholarship money even if you’re not at the top of your class or an outstanding athlete? Many students do. They’ve found that there are numerous smaller "weird" scholarships that are available if you’re willing to take the time to find them. And, finding those weird scholarships is more important than ever.
A so-called "moderate" college budget for someone attending a four-year public university was over $23,000.
To help offset that expense, CollegeBoard.org estimates that full-time students at a four-year college received $6,100 in aid including grants and tax credits.
To help us learn more about unusual college scholarships, we contacted Pyper Barnes. Pyper is a junior finance major at the University of Alabama and the owner of WeirdScholarships. Weird Scholarships is a website dedicated to helping students find unique and interesting scholarship opportunities.
Q. What’s the biggest misconception that people have about scholarships? And how does that affect the applicant?
Pyper: There are numerous myths that surround scholarships. Although some scholarships are quite competitive, students can qualify for many types of college scholarships. If students are not aware of the other types of scholarships available, they may give up and miss out on some of the funding I found by searching for unique scholarships.
The most common misconception about scholarships is probably the belief that the only people who will get good scholarships are athletes and top-ranked students.
This is simply not true. There are many scholarships that have nothing to do with athletic prowess or the highest academic achievements. If you excel in almost any kind of extra-curricular activities, like music, art and other types, you can find scholarships for college.
In addition, private organizations and companies sponsor all kinds of scholarships for students from specific religious, ethnic, or cultural backgrounds. You may have to satisfy a minimum requirement for GPA, but you don’t have to be at the top of your class.
I found a lot of help from so-called unique or weird scholarship. They range from being tall to wearing Duck™ brand duct tape to a prom. Some of these scholarships still offer solid aid amounts, although others are smaller. The scholarships with lower dollar amounts awarded attract much less attention, though, and they are easier to win.
Some of the scholarships I qualified for, without being a star student or athlete, include those for members of my religious denomination, for people in my age group, and for choral singers.
Q. You stress the importance of "standing out." How can you do that without stepping over the line into bad taste?
Pyper: Most students use the essay part of their scholarship application to stand out from other people trying for the same award. When you write an essay, it first needs to be pertinent to the scholarship for which you are applying. Writing like a brilliant author won’t help you if your writing is off-topic.
Bring out the aspects of your personality that make you different. Highlight your good qualities. Include any unique habits or talents you have, without having anything you write possibly be interpreted as being in bad taste. That type of writing has no place in scholarship application essays. Everything you say should relate to the point you want to make.
Q. Web searches turn up many obscure facts. How can you use search to discover little known scholarships?
Pyper: Scholarships are available from so many places that it would be impossible to find them just by looking for college websites. That’s why I searched "weird," "unique," and "unusual" to find a search engine that listed lesser-known scholarships.
The most commonly found scholarships located with search engines may be the better known awards, for top scholars and great athletes. It’s important, if you’re not the best athlete and don’t have the top grades, to find scholarships that don’t draw as many people. Each scholarship in "weird" searches has something unique that makes fewer students eligible to apply for it. Each one has individual requirements, but they’re different from the prerequisites for conventional scholarships.
Q. On your site, you highlight 100 strange scholarships. Are there any patterns that would help students look for scholarship?
Pyper: To find obscure scholarships, you need to use search terms like "unusual," "weird," "odd," etc. You can also search religious scholarships and those of community organizations that will be less-applied-for than larger scholarships.
Any organization that you belong to may also be a key you can use to find lesser-known scholarships. For example, if you are an environmentalist, you can use that in your search to find scholarships that cater to people with the same passionate causes as you.
Q. What types of categories should be searched? What types of searches tend to find the best scholarships?
Pyper: It’s really not that difficult to find scholarships. Search the categories that pertain to your talents and affiliations. You can also become a member of a search website, which will allow it to display all the scholarships that are best tailored to you.
The categories in which you can search include:
State of residence
The best websites allow you to enter enough keywords so you will be selecting from the scholarships that suit you best.
Q. How hard is it to win these scholarships? Are the odds pretty long? Or can I expect to win at least some money?
Pyper: The difficulty in winning depends on the scholarship. The more focused the criteria, the fewer students may apply. With smaller scholarships, there is a greater chance of winning. I’ve heard that some smaller scholarships just get a handful of applications each year. The more applications you complete, the better.
Q. How much time should I expect to spend to research and apply for strange scholarships?
Pyper: Short answer? A lot. The more applications you submit, the better chance you have of receiving an award. Remember, if you spend 40 hours applying for scholarships, then you receive a $2,000 award, it is like getting paid $50 per hour!
But once you get the hang of applying you will be able to speed it up. You will find that you can reuse a lot of your scholarship application responses.
Parents can help students if they are short on time. They can narrow down the choices and then you will have better-suited scholarships from which to make the best choices.
Pyper Barnes is the Founder of Weird Scholarships. Weird Scholarships is dedicated to helping students find unconventional and unique scholarship opportunities.