CollegeNET.com offers $16,000 worth of scholarships each month and founder Jim Wolfston hopes to eventually offer $150,000 per month. To do so, he has begun inviting corporate sponsors to contribute funds, such as MeadMap.com, a division of school supply manufacturer MeadWestvaco.
Wolfston started CollegeNET about a year and half ago and has been funding scholarships with company revenue derived from hosting online admission applications that allow students to apply to more than one school with the same electronic form. The company also makes money by helping groups, such as schools, learn how to organize and use their space in the most energy-efficient ways possible. The site is growing rapidly -- six months ago it had half of the monthly visitors it has now, Wolfston said.
"We have been a successful firm and have tried to think creatively about how to approach the question of giving back," he said.
A month ago he added a video component to the site so that students can post video instead of writing a comment. He equates CollegeNET's scholarship voting process to that of a political campaign, saying "you have to express yourself in a genuine way, but a way that is attractive to other voters."
The site allows students to decide which of their peers ought to win each month, without a panel of judges intervening.
Wolfston said that although he may not necessarily have chosen those winners who end up getting the most votes month to month, "you have to respect the outcome if you believe in the outcome of the people's choice."
Tricia Will of St. Cloud, Fla., won a second-place $4,000 scholarship from CollegeNET in May, which she used to pay for books and tuition expenses at Grand Canyon University where she's earning an online degree in secondary education.
"I'm astounded and honored that my peers on CollegeNET chose me," Will said. "I had been in the Top 5 before and had been knocked out. That's just the fun of it."
The 40-year-old faces $15,000 bills for each of the four years that she must attend school.
"I thought about being a teacher my whole life," said Will, who works two jobs -- one at her parents' British car repair company and another as a hairdresser. "I love color and cuts. If I can make a person feel good, that just makes my day."
She's now channeling that energy into a teaching career, but one that is tough to afford.
"It's a phenomenal idea," Will said of CollegeNET. "I don't have time to write down a 1,000-word essay on every scholarship I apply for. I have to take care of the house and my family. Where will I have time to write seven or eight different essays?"
Another little-known Web site that's helping students make money is aptly named, somewhat controversially, StudentofFortune.com, a company that pays you to help other students with their homework. There's a fine line between tutoring and cheating, and the site relies on an honor-code system.
Samantha Perkins, 24, came across the Web site one night while working on a homework assignment.
"I read all the facts about it and I thought, 'It sounds cool, I'll sign up,'" she said.