Generally, we think about college scholarships and financial aid as pretty serious business. You spend precious hours searching out opportunities, crafting perfect essays, finding the ideal recommendations, and making sure your application is up to par—and the cost of college is certainly no joke.
But that's not to say you can't have some fun in the midst of your scholarship search. For every hyper-competitive national scholarship, there are dozens of options geared toward uncommon pursuits, unusual interests, and unlikely skills. These four scholarships may not appeal to everyone, but if you fit their criteria they can mean real money toward your college education.
[Read why college scholarships are essential.]
One of the most ubiquitous elements of any student's college life is the lofted bed. When dorms are as small as they often are, every bit of space counts, and one of the easiest unusual scholarships to apply for is the OP Loftbed $500 Scholarship.
Sponsored by one of the leading manufacturers of bed lofts, this scholarship competition's unique twist comes via the application. Rather than asking about your grades, goals, or achievements, the judges are looking for the most creative short answers to a set of nontraditional questions. These range from "What song would you want to play every time you walked in a room and why?" to "What should be celebrated with a new holiday every year?" OP Loftbed runs the contest a few times a year; if you have a little time to think creatively, it's well worth submitting an application next time.
If it's hard to imagine college life without a bed loft, it's even harder to imagine everyday life without duct tape—and everyone's favorite adhesive can mean up to $5,000 in college cash for a creative couple. The Duck Brand Stuck At Prom Scholarship Contest, now in its 12th year, challenges high school promgoers to create entire outfits out of duct tape for the chance to win scholarships. Duck will choose its top 10, and then the public will vote for the first-, second- and third-place winners (who win scholarship funds for themselves and their schools).
You can start submitting your entries on March 7, but before you start planning, be warned that this is a little more intense than your average duct tape wallet project: Last year's grand prize winners didn't just make a suit and a dress from duct tape; they constructed flowers, lace and a vest and tie combo that, frankly, was nicer than the tux I wore to my prom.
While we're on the subject of ducks, did you know you can turn your passion for duck calling into scholarship dollars? Every November, the city of Stuttgart, Ark., hosts the World's Champion Duck Calling Contest; in conjunction with the main contest, any high school senior is eligible to enter the Chick and Sophie Major Memorial Duck Calling Contest, which awards scholarships to the top four finishers. Over the past 36 years, the memorial contest has given out $60,000 in scholarship funds; 2011 winner Gavin Roberts received a $2,000 award. If you're a skilled caller and will be graduating from high school in spring 2013, bookmark the contest page, and you might just find yourself on stage with next year's Queen Mallard.
[Explore more unusual scholarship opportunities.]
Last but not least is one of the highest-paying unusual scholarships out there: the Ursinus College Creative Writing Award. The award may not actually sound that unusual, until you learn that it was formerly known as the J.D. Salinger Creative Writing Award—and that the writer receiving the award not only gets $30,000 per year, but also the chance to spend his or her freshman year living in the former dorm room of the reclusive Catcher in the Rye author.
While this scholarship is a big and competitive award, the college does treat it with the appropriate sense of humor as well: "In the spirit of Holden Caulfield … we are looking for an unusual perspective, for quirky brilliance, for a voice, not necessarily the kind that can be measured by conventional standards. Mr. Salinger never graduated, but we like to think that if his genius had been recognized with an award like this, he might have." If you're serious about writing, this unusual scholarship could be the ticket to a bright future.
Matt Konrad has been with Scholarship America since 2005. He is an alumnus of the University of Minnesota and a former scholarship recipient.