Times have changed in the last 20 years for students who love video games. In 1994, the classic college comedy film PCU joked about the absurdity of being able to "major in Gameboy;" now, less than two decades later, gaming can mean real money for your college education.
Whether you're a player, an aspiring developer, or a student of gaming culture, there are scholarships out there for you. As cities and libraries around the world prepare to celebrate International Games Day on November 3, here are some opportunities to be aware of in the coming year.
[Find out how to start your scholarship search.]
The long-running webcomic Penny Arcade, which features the (often profane) adventures of a pair of game-loving main characters, also established one of the earliest video-game-specific scholarship programs. Each year since 2007, a $10,000 Penny Arcade Scholarship has been awarded to "the student who shows the most potential to positively impact the game industry," and previous winners have specialized in everything from game design to visual cognition.
Applicants need to be current college students with a minimum 3.3 GPA (on a 4.0 scale), and applications are typically available starting in March or April.
Like Penny Arcade, the online fighting game community at Shoryuken.com is turning some of its profits into scholarship funds. Proceeds from the pay-per-view broadcast of their signature Evo Championship Series game tournament were used to create the Evo College Scholarship, which was awarded last week.
Thanks to higher-than-anticipated viewership, they were able to award two $10,000 scholarship awards as well as a $500 creative grant. Applicants for this year's award were required to be high school seniors or college students intending to pursue a major and career involving the game industry.
[Learn more about college students and gaming.]
The Twitch & Alienware Scholarship Program brought to you by SteelSeries also awarded its first scholarships this year. The program provided five $10,000 scholarships to college students across the country, and will be open again for the 2013 school year.
Sponsored by online gaming site Twitch, hardware manufacturer Alienware, and accessory maker SteelSeries, the Twitch & Alienware Scholarship requires demonstrated achievement in the classroom—and on your favorite game, whether it's Halo or Mario Kart. Beyond that, your interests can lie anywhere; Kelli Dunlap, winner of one of the five 2012 awards, is working on a graduate thesis about the impact of gaming on different personality types.
Since 2008, the Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) G.I.R.L. Scholarship Program has been awarding scholarships for careers in video game development and design. The scholarship was created to encourage young women interested in the game industry, but both men and women are eligible to apply.
One annual winner receives a $10,000 award and an optional 10-week paid internship at one of SOE's studios. The application for the G.I.R.L. program opens in February and has a late-March deadline; finalists are asked to write an essay and submit concept art based on an SOE game, so if you're considering applying, now would be a good time to start sketching!
[Read more about the importance of female STEM majors.]
Last but not least, the prestigious Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences awards four $2,500 scholarships each year. Two of the awards are given under the auspices of the Randy Pausch Scholarship Fund; named for the late computer science professor famous for his "Last Lecture," these scholarships are given to support students pursuing the development of interactive entertainment.
The Academy also awards two Mark Beaumont Scholarships, in memory of the former COO of Capcom. Beaumont Scholarships are intended specifically for students pursuing the business side of gaming (executive leadership, entertainment law, and other careers). Both programs are scheduled to open again in March 2013.
No matter where a gaming career may take you, these scholarships can help you get started—even if you can't actually major in GameBoy.
Matt Konrad has been with Scholarship America since 2005. He is an alumnus of the University of Minnesota and a former scholarship recipient.