High school seniors trawling the Internet for college scholarships may want to bone up on their tweeting skills.
Louisville-based KFC is offering a $20,000 scholarship for a single tweet. With a character limit of 140, that's $142 per character for the winner.
Applicants must use their brief statement to say why they are deserving of the Colonel's Scholars scholarship. Tweets must include the hashtag KFCScholar, and only high school seniors may apply.
The contest started Wednesday and runs through Nov. 26. The winner will be announced Dec. 1.
"It's judged based on quality, creativity, ability to tell a story on why they should receive the award, and the entrepreneurial drive and desire to pursue a college education," said KFC spokesman Rick Maynard.
Some early entries stressed high-minded ambition and work ethic.
One professed a devotion to "making a positive change to our society and the way we think through science." Another said, "I taught 4 classes myself and have to travel 30+ minutes when I work for Catholic youth."
Another applicant took a different tact, professing himself a loyal customer: "Holy Heck, I love that chicken, Remember that when your pickin', The guy to give that 20k, That guy is here, right this way."
Carol Montgomery, director of guidance services for Jefferson County public schools, said the tweeted scholarship is "cutting edge" that's quite a departure from scholarship applications that often are "so lengthy and so bulky."
She's heard of just a handful of similar scholarship offerings, but expects them to gain popularity.
"I would love that kids could spell and could write and could do sentences and paragraphs and themes and essays at a very high level," she said. "But we cannot negate the value of the social media with Facebook and Twitter."
Daniel Kovach, founder of CollegeScholarships.org, said his site launched a scholarship award based entirely on a tweet last year.
"In addition to more traditional scholarship, we like to promote using online media as a creative outlet, and have offered a blogging scholarship for five years now," he said in an e-mail, adding that his site was a response to the stress of paying for college.
He said some college-finding services have used the reach of Facebook and Twitter to help promote scholarships.
Meanwhile, KFC is hoping to make an impression with a new generation of potential customers.
"We think this is a smart and strategic way to reach young people online, where they already spend a lot of time," said John Cywinski, KFC's chief marketing and food innovation officer.
KFC, the chicken chain made famous by the secret mix of herbs and spices, has been slumping in the U.S. The brand posted an 8 percent sales drop at domestic restaurants open at least a year in its last full quarter.
The chain has grown rapidly overseas, especially in China — where it's become a dominant fast-food brand.
The KFC Colonel's Scholars, now in its fifth year, is a program of the Kentucky Fried Chicken Foundation. The foundation awards more than 75 college scholarships each year, but this is the first one based solely on a single tweet.
The scholarship winner will receive up to $5,000 a year for the next four years to pursue a bachelor's degree at a public college or university in the recipient's home state. Applicants must have a minimum cumulative high school grade point average of 2.75 and be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to be eligible.
KFC is a subsidiary of Louisville-based Yum Brands Inc., whose chains also include Taco Bell and Pizza Hut.