If you're a left-handed high-school senior planning on attending Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa., go tell Mom and Dad to stop collecting those returnables.
You're an outstanding candidate for the Beckley Scholarship, a $700 financial award that is one of the nation's quirkier scholarships.
Joseph Garguilo of the National Scholarship Research Service (NSRS), San Rafael, Calif., says the $114 billion in scholarships awarded last year was more than a 10 percent jump from 1988 and well over the $40 billion given out in 1978.
The Beckley Scholarship Foundation is one of the NSRS's 200,000 listings. It's offered by a couple -- southpaws, obviously -- who were paired on the tennis team because of their lefty trait, fell in love and got married, according to Dan Cassidy, president and founder of NSRS.
Right-handers can get scholarships, too. Doctoral candidates studying fungus could win a $1,000 fellowship from the Mycological Society of America. C-average telecommunications students at Ball State University could get David Letterman to foot the bill for their tuition.
"Letterman was a C student," says Cassidy. "He doesn't want A students."
In fact, most of the scholarships available will settle for lower grades.
"Ninety percent are not looking at the straight-A student. A 2.5 (grade-point average) is sufficient," Cassidy says. "Now that the Feds are getting out of the student loan business ... students have to retool their thinking and start looking at the private sector."
But don't get the impression that it's raining scholarship money.
Garguilo estimates that NSRS successfully matches 27 percent of its clients with scholarships they eventually apply for and win.
And be wary of companies that guarantee scholarships in return for search fees. Even though he's in the scholarship-finding business, Garguilo says, "I couldn't guarantee for my own granddaughter, who's 18."
He advises a scholarship seeker to see a financial aid officer or counselor first, then go to a library for books on available scholarships and keep an eye out for local scholarships or scholarships offered by the university the student wants to attend.
Judy Florian, senior associate director of the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid at Wayne State University, Detroit, estimates that 60 percent of college students are getting some kind of financial assistance.
She says scholarships often play an important role in a student's ability to attend college, and success at landing them often depends on "how aggressive the student wants to be."
"In life there are no guarantees, so students need to increase their chances by applying early" and applying for as many available scholarships as possible, Florian says.
The scholarship hunt can begin as early as the sophomore or junior year in high school, she says. It helps if students have taken the SAT or ACT, have a clear idea what type of school they want to attend, and have examined a particular school's program and environment -- not just its price tag. Once the college choice has been made, the student should check the university for possible scholarships and any local or other organizations offering scholarships.
Florian says she is not fond of scholarship-finding organizations.
"The financial aid community as a whole does not endorse the for-profit scholarship information services," she says.