Some say there are millions of dollars in unrewarded scholarship money each year. Others, commonly those in the higher education field, say that a large amount of unclaimed scholarships is a myth perpetrated by fraudulent organizations that charge students for scholarship searches. Most unrewarded scholarship money comes from restrictive scholarships that have a small pool of eligible applicants - a scholarship for left-handed female students from Wisconsin that are color blind would probably result in left over funds. (When families get desperate to scrape together college funds, they may fall prey to scammers. See Life Lesson No. 1: Avoid College Scholarship Fraud.)
TUTORIAL: Education Savings Account
Marvin Carmichael, past national chair of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), stated that 85% of the money labeled as "unclaimed" is employer-paid education benefits. Experts advise against paying private firms to search for these so-called unclaimed scholarship dollars. Many of these offers are scams, and even legitimate searches don't offer any more than you could find yourself with a free Internet search or a trip to the school guidance counselor. Here are some examples of scholarships that might have unclaimed dollars due to their strange or specific requirements:
Duck Brand Scholarship
Quirky and creative high school students have the opportunity for $500 to $5,000 in college scholarship money for their prom night fashions. The "Stuck at Prom" scholarship from the makers of duct tape rewards students who design and wear elaborate dresses, suits and accessories made from the sticky stuff to the biggest dance of the year. Applicants can submit their information and photos of their outfits online where they are shared and voted on by members of the company's official online community, "The Duct Tape Club". Applicants are responsible for purchasing their own duct tape, and must enter as a couple.
It's all in the name for this funding source. Since 1882, students at Hamilton College in Clinton, NY with the last name Leavenworth have been awarded a full, four year scholarship through this special endowment. The endowment was set up by Elias W. Leavenworth. From 1995 to 2006, there were no eligible students at Hamilton College and this money went unclaimed.
Talls Club International Student Scholarship
College freshman go to great lengths for this award. The TCI awards $1,000 each year to women 5'10" and over and men 6'2" and over who are under 21 years of age.
National Potato Council Scholarship
Five thousand dollars is available for graduate students who want to pursue a career that "enhances the potato industry". The council, which was formed in 1948 to unite U.S. potato growers after WWII, chooses recipients based on academic achievement, leadership abilities and potato-related areas of graduate study. (University payment plans are a great option for reducing student loan borrowing, but only if you know the details. Check out Student Borrowing: University Payment Plans Vs. Federal Student Loans.)
Society of Vacuum Coaters Foundation Scholarship Fund
To promote education in the little known field of vacuum coating, a mechanized process for applying coatings to lengths of materials, the SVC gives out scholarships to those studying vacuum coating technology at an accredited technical, vocational, two-year, undergraduate or graduate school. Typically, the foundation gives out two to three financial awards each year.
Chick and Sophie Major Memorial Scholarship Duck Calling Contest
Ducks bring luck if you can qualify for this scholarship fund which has been awarded every year since 1974. Current high school seniors can earn $500 to $2,000 if they place in the annual duck calling contest in Stuttgart, Ark. which requires the execution of four calls in 90 minutes. The scholarship winners are free to use their financial aid in any field of study at any institution of higher learning.
The Bottom Line
Unclaimed scholarship money may be available, but not in the abundant and easy to grab quantities that are sometimes reported. If you have an unusual talent or the right last name, you might be eligible for obscure pots of scholarship gold for which most other students can't apply. (These savings vehicles may be better than college saving funds for some families. Refer to Pay For A College Education With Retirement Funds.)