Video: Scholarships for the alternately gifted

By Anne Thompson Chief environmental correspondent
NBC News
updated 3/28/2005 8:04:11 PM ET 2005-03-29T01:04:11

Like many high school students, Megan Schier is stitching together money for college, but she's doing it literally, winning a $1,500 scholarship from the American Sheep Industry for knitting and sewing an outfit with wool.

“I knew there were many different kinds of scholarships available,” she says. “You just had to look hard enough to find the right one.”

There are some $2 billion in privately funded scholarships that go far beyond rewarding the “brainiac” student or star athlete.

“If you have been lucky enough to be born with the right last name, you can get a free ride on your college education,” says Mark Kantrowitz, who runs the Web site Finaid.org.

That free ride is to Loyola University in Chicago. Of course, your last name must be “Zolp.”

For “Star Trek” fans, the Klingon Language Institute gives out $500 to language students — speaking Klingon is not required.

In praise of "C" students, talk show host David Letterman offers three scholarships at his alma mater, Ball State. To qualify you have to be an average telecommunications student with a creative mind.

And speaking of creative, if you and your date can turn duct tape into prom outfits, you could split $5,000.

Such offers have perpetuated the myth that private scholarship money goes unused. But that's not true, say experts. And it’s just as untrue that you must spend money to find these opportunities.

“Follow a general rule of thumb: If you have to pay money to get money, it's probably a scam,” says Greg Ashe, an attorney with the Federal Trade Commission.

Such scams take millions of dollars from families each year through high pressure come-ons.

Some companies will say, ‘Oh, you've won a scholarship, there's going to be a $50 processing fee.’ Or, ‘We have this financial aid program that's going to cost you a $1,000 registration fee,’” says Ashe.

Megan's prize cost her only the time and effort to enter a select class — one in 15 college students whose tuition will be paid in part by private scholarships.

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