While scholarships are abundant for star athletes, honor students and gifted musicians, teens with unusual traits or talents can cash in too -- for instance, if they sound like a duck.
“There’s money out there,” said Stephen Bell from the Stuttgart Chamber of Commerce in Stuttgart, Ark. He would know. For more than three decades, teens from U.S. high schools have converged on his town of about 9,000 residents, just southeast of Little Rock, to compete for scholarship money. Their talent: Duck calling.
“It’s open to any high school senior in the nation, and we’ve had a lot of students," Bell said, adding, "They come from not only Arkansas, but Iowa, Michigan and Illinois."
The Stuttgart contest has awarded more than $60,000 over 30 years to young duck callers attending 32 different colleges and universities in 13 states, according to Bell. The scholarship honors the memories of Stuttgart’s legendary championship duck callers and duck call makers, Chick and Sophie Major. On Nov. 23, hopefuls can give their best feather-ruffling calls for this year's scholarship.
"There are a plethora of scholarships out there," said Amy Weinstein, executive director of the National Scholarship Providers Association in Denver, Colo. "The gold mine is out there, but there is no way around the hard work to get to it -- even with the quirky ones."
Such scholarship amounts may not seem like much, considering the rising cost of a year at college, yet they add up, said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid.org, a free online resource about scholarships and financial aid. Kantrowitz said 9 million members are currently enrolled in his online service, which he started in 1994.
“Most times kids poo poo anything under $1,000, but they have to remember that those are easier to win,” Kantrowitz said. “If you win a smaller award, it helps you win others because it is a stamp of excellence. Those wins add up over time.”
If a student marches to the offbeat, there's a healthy mix of scholarships available from local and national clubs, and U.S. universities and colleges, said Kevin N. Ladd, vice president of Scholarships.com, an online scholarship search site based in Highland Park, Ill.
For example, there's a scholarship for left-handed students, but it's only granted if students enroll at Juniata College in Pennsylvania, Ladd said. Loyola University Chicago offers another unusual gift, but the student's last name has to be Zolp. “I am not sure anybody has actually cashed in on that one in the last decade," Ladd said. "There are scholarships for tall people, little people and people who are interested in candy."
“Don’t assume that your dream school is out of reach, because you never know how much aid each school will offer you,” Ladd said. "There are scholarships out there, too, you just have to work very hard for them."
“This way you have four years to do it. Don’t wait until your senior year when you might learn that you had to have 150 hours of community service for a particular scholarship and it’s too late to volunteer that much of your time.”
Still stuck? Think tape. The Duck Brand Stuck at Prom Scholarship awards $5,000 for the first-place winner who creates the best prom dress -- made out of tape.
Some helpful links for unusual scholarships:
- The National Candy Technologists Scholarship
- Chick and Sophie Major Memorial Duck Calling Contest
- Little People of America Scholarship
- Duck Brand Stuck at Prom Scholarship
Do you know of an unusual scholarship? Let us know on the msnbc.com US News Facebook page.
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