As often as not, collegiate charity comes with strings attached; for some donors, the joy in creating a scholarship seems to be surpassed only by the fun of telling a school how to spend it. Each winter, the arrival of admissions season sends college aid officials scrambling to match quirky scholarships to students.
Johns Hopkins University has a scholarship for a student whose passion is reinforced concrete.
The University of Mary Washington has two scholarships for students who play the bagpipes in the school’s Eagle Pipe Band.
George Washington University’s Robert Martin Kilgore Scholarship goes to the student who submits “the best essay of 300 to 400 words on some aspect of parliamentary procedure.”
James Madison University has a Balanced Man Scholarship. Entrants must answer the question, “What does it mean to be a balanced man?”
The average college student reaped $6,539 in grant aid in the 2010-11 academic year, according to the College Board. Most of the money goes to two broad purposes: meeting students’ financial needs and rewarding them for academic merit.
Given their choice, colleges prefer to award aid by their own rules. But some donors want their dollars spent on students from a certain high school, or town, or academic program. Most colleges oblige.
“Clearly, when someone’s giving you money, it’s very hard to say no to them and their restrictions,” said Mark Kantrowitz, a college aid guru who publishes the FinAid and Fastweb sites.
Some scholarships hark back to a simpler time, when college cost a few hundred dollars and financial aid was dispensed from a single desk.
The Gulentz scholarship at Georgetown, founded by 1890 graduate Charles Gulentz, gives preference “to eligible Roman Catholics who are nominated by the bishop of Pittsburgh.” Failing that, a Roman Catholic from Pennsylvania will do.
Joseph H. Deppen, a 1900 graduate of Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, established a scholarship in the name of his sister, Gertrude. He asked that his money go to students from the sparsely populated borough of Mount Carmel who “are graduates of Mount Carmel Public High School, who are not habitual users of tobacco, intoxicating liquor, and narcotics, and who do not participate in strenuous athletic contests.”
The Frederick Edgar Blaser Scholarship, established in 1951 at Hopkins, is supposed to go to the child of someone employed by either the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad or the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad. Both have ceased operation.
“To honor the spirit of the scholarship, we look for a student with need and who has a parent who works for any railroad,” said Dennis O’Shea, a spokesman. If none can be found, the money can go to any Hopkins student in need.
Some scholarships are specific enough to send aid officials on a matchmaking scavenger hunt.
The 13th Street Gang Scholarships at Albright College in Pennsylvania go only to students who attended elementary, middle and high school on 13th Street in Reading, Pa.
The Richard Marks Scholarship at GWU gives preference to “students from West Virginia who work part time and are not majoring in a sport or physical education program.”
A scholarship at the University of Mary Washington favors juniors who major in math, physics, chemistry or business — and live on a working farm.
A Hopkins scholarship gives preference to students who hail from Boulder or Longmont, Colo., Jackson County, Ill., or Kauai County, Hawaii.
The Marion O. Norby Endowed Scholarship Fund at GWU supports “women who are or have been employed as secretaries at the White House or in the Executive Office of the President,” especially if they “wish to study law.”
Loyola University in Chicago has the Zolp Scholarship, which must go to a Roman Catholic named Zolp.
And Juniata College in Pennsylvania has its Left-Handed Scholarships, awarded only to southpaws.
Some truly odd scholarships reside beyond the college gates, in the universe of associations, interest groups and corporations. A few of the more unusual:
●American Fire Sprinkler Association Scholarships. Entrants must read a Fire Sprinkler Essay and take a multiple-choice test on sprinkler savvy.
●Chick and Sophie Major Memorial Duck Calling Contest. Go ahead and laugh — and miss out on $4,250 in scholarship dollars.
●Tall Clubs International Scholarships. Female entrants must be at least 5-foot-10, men 6-foot-2.
●Michigan Llama Association Scholarship. Funded through an annual Llamafest silent auction.
●Stuck at Prom Scholarships. The winning couple must attend prom wearing outfits made with duct tape. (In legalese, that’s “Duct Tape Prom Attire.”)
●Kor Memorial Scholarship. Offered by the Klingon Language Institute. Proficiency in Klingon is not required.