Students With Average Grades Can Get Scholarships

Not all college aid awards are for people with top-notch grades.

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While scholarship opportunities abound for students with eye-popping SAT scores and single-digit class ranks, those without remarkable academic backgrounds are often left to wonder if there are any scholarships left for them. Rest assured that there is financial support provided to those with average grades. More and more scholarships are becoming available for students based on creativity, community service, overcoming adversity and extracurricular activities. Regardless of your grades, test scores, or passions, there's bound to be an opportunity for scholarship money for you, too.

[Get more advice on how to pay for college.]

If you have creative skills:

David Letterman Telecommunications Scholarship: Established by comedian David Letterman in 1985, the David Letterman Telecommunications Scholarship is designed for students with average grades, but imaginative and artistic minds. Winners are selected primarily based on creativity, as demonstrated in projects involving a variety of media functions: written work, research, audio, video, graphics, and film. In this program, the winner receives $10,000, while the first runner-up receives $5,000 and the second runner-up receives $3,333.

If you perform community service:

The Caring Institute: There are monetary rewards for students whose community service and volunteer work is above average. The Caring Award is for those who do just that: care for others and demonstrate actions worthy of mirroring. The $2,000 reward goes beyond money for college and includes a crystal statue, a profile in Caring magazine, and an official induction into the Hall of Fame for Caring Americans, accompanied by a trip to Washington, D.C., for the induction. A scholarship, recognition, and a free trip? It doesn't get much better than that.

[Read more about turning your service into college cash.]

If you have overcome adversity:

Horatio Alger Association Scholarships: Many of us are experiencing hardships now more than ever. While it builds strength to overcome these misfortunes on your own, wouldn't it be nice to also get recognition and even a bit of free money for your perseverance? The Horatio Alger Association thinks so, and provides scholarships for students who have demonstrated grace and integrity while overcoming adversity. The association rewards 100 high school seniors with $10,000 scholarships and 150 high school seniors with $1,000 each year.

If you have achievement in nonacademic activities:

AXA Achievement Scholarship Program: Do you have a passion you'd like fellow students, coworkers, or members of your community to get involved in? Don't be shy; go ahead and get your club started, because the AXA Achievement Scholarship program recognizes youth for their ambition, ability to set and reach goals, and respect for their community. More than $1.3 million in awards are given out to high school seniors who have shown outstanding achievement in nonacademic activities in their school, their community, or their workplace. The program includes scholarships of $25,000, $10,000, and $2,000. (U.S. News partners with AXA to provide AXA Achievement scholarships.)

If you can write:

Americanism Essay Contest: Another way to bag some bucks for college is to enter an essay contest, though many of these contests require large chunks of time; it takes little more than a pen, paper, and some effort to enter. The Americanism Essay contest is sponsored by the Fleet Reserve Association (FRA) National Committee on Americanism-Patriotism. The essay topics are based on a theme that is announced each spring (including this year's, "What Does Patriotism Mean to Me?"). Awards include a grand prize of a $10,000 U.S. Savings Bond, and $5,000, $3,000, and $2,000 U.S. Savings Bonds awarded to the first-, second- and third-place winners, respectively.

In addition to these scholarships, there are many programs that look beyond academics and reward students' talents, passions, and selflessness. If you thought scholarships were only for athletic and academic overachievers, think again. With some determination and sincere research, you can pave your own road to college as well as your future. Here's to a smooth ride.

[Learn about 5 unusual scholarships.]

Mackenzie Owens joined Scholarship America in the spring of 2011 and is an alumna of Columbia College. She was also the recipient of numerous scholarships.