Discover Scholarships for Atypical Students

Vegetarians, amputees, cancer survivors, and older applicants can all find help to pay for college.

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It's a hectic time of year for high school seniors. As graduation approaches, most of you are busy applying for college and have narrowed down your choices to one or two schools. But in the midst of college application season, don't forget that this is also prime scholarship season.

As you continue your search for scholarships, think about what sets you apart from other students. It may be your grades—we all know there are plenty of academic scholarships out there—or it may be your athletic talents. But for those of you who aren't academic or athletic all-stars, don't get discouraged. There's a scholarship out there for everyone.

[Consider these four unique college scholarships.]

Think about what makes you unique, then do a keyword search and see what comes up. You may be surprised at the results. We did a quick search of scholarships for atypical students—and here are just a few we discovered. Maybe one of these opportunities is the perfect scholarship for you. And if not, keep searching!

• Vegetarians: Are you opposed to eating meat? Have you been vocal about the benefits of becoming a vegetarian? Your devotion to veggies could pay off after you apply for The Vegetarian Resource Group's scholarship for vegetarians.

Applicants are judged on showing compassion and commitment to promoting a peaceful world through vegetarianism. And, lucky for you, an anonymous donor has allowed the organization to increase the award amounts to two $5,000 scholarships! But don't delay—the application is due February 20, which is right around the corner.

• Amputees: Losing a limb is extremely devastating, and can be even more devastating if medical expenses get in the way of your dream of attending college. Thankfully, there are some wonderful scholarship opportunities out there for amputees. The Claude S. Weiler Scholarship for Amputee College Students, awarded through the National Amputee Foundation, gives six $500 scholarships to prospective or current college students who have suffered a major loss of a limb.

Another excellent organization for scholarships is Ye Notorious Krewe of the Peg Leg Pirate. Though their name sounds funny, this organization is serious about providing assistance to amputees, and one of the ways they help is through scholarships. The deadline for applying for a scholarship is March 15; award amounts differ ever year.

[Check out some more unusual scholarships.]

• Cancer survivors: There are few things harder on a family than battling cancer. With the disease comes extreme financial, emotional, and psychological pressure. If you've battled or are currently battling cancer, you know how it can affect your schoolwork, extracurricular activities, and after-school job opportunities. Understandably, saving for college is probably the last thing on your and your parents' minds.

So if you're set on going to college, take advantage of the scholarships that are offered to cancer survivors, and let paying for college be one less thing you have to worry about. The Cancer Survivors' Fund grants college scholarships to those who have survived cancer or are currently battling cancer. The catch with this one is that if you receive the scholarship, you also agree to do volunteer work to help cancer patients and survivors cope. This application is due March 23.

The American Cancer Society's Young Cancer Survivor Scholarships are awarded to pediatric cancer survivors who reside in an area that is served by that particular division of the organization. Most, but not all, of the divisions of the American Cancer Society award scholarships; the award amounts and number of scholarships awarded depend on which division serves your area. Amounts typically vary from $1,000 to $10,000.

[Explore the U.S. News guide to paying for college.]

• Older applicants: Finally, if you're over the age of 50 and have always wanted to earn your degree, don't automatically assume you're not eligible for scholarships. True, most scholarships are for graduating high school seniors or current college students, but the AARP Foundation's Women's Scholarship Program offers fantastic scholarship opportunities for low-income women over the age of 50.

Priority is given to applicants who have been out of work for over a year, are in low-paying jobs, women veterans, and those with dependants. Scholarships range from $500 to $5,000; the number of awards varies yearly. Applications are due by March 30.

Michelle Showalter joined Scholarship America in 2007 and is an alumna of Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.