Think Like Letterman, Win College Tuition

Are you a socially conscious skateboarder? Are you left-handed or an overweight New Englander? Is your last name "Zolp"?

Not to sound like the narrator in a late-night infomercial, but if you answer "Yes" to any of those questions, thousands of dollars in real college scholarships may be yours.

Sure, it helps to have Einstein's brain, Michael Jordan's vertical leap, and a public service record Mother Teresa would admire if you want an institution of higher learning to welcome you with its checkbook open. But cash prizes for unusual skills and nontraditional life experiences are for the taking.

Here's a tip for cocktail waitresses: the Bunny Y. Burns Scholarship offers $1,000 in tuition to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, for any college-bound bar maidens. Burns, who had worked at the Flamingo Hotel, left her entire $40,000 estate to UNLV when she died in 1994.

After trading in her swizzle sticks, one Bunny Burns scholar became an elementary school teacher, says school administrator Joe Cockrell.

"Don't forget about the smaller, quirkier scholarships," says Ben Kaplan, publisher of "Even if they're not much money, they can have a snowballing effect. Get one scholarship on your resume and it helps you win the next."

"Star Trek" fans can shoot for a $500 grant from the Klingon Language Institute -- the esteemed organization that translated "Hamlet" into the sci-fi warrior language -- and you don't even have to be fluent in Klingon. You just need to demonstrate a desire to go into language studies and creativity.

If you're good with a needle, The National Make It Yourself With Wool Scholarship offers $100 to $1,000 to those who whip up the most impressive afghans. The Patrick Kerr Skateboard Scholarship gives as much as $5,000 to sidewalk surfers with a record of community service.

Even your apple pie recipe may be worth $4,000. The Culinary Institute of America dishes out 14 scholarships to high school juniors and seniors. In addition to $4,000 top Gold Medal honors, there are regional $1,000 prizes.

Some scholarships are ridiculously specific. For decades, the University of California at Berkeley offered a $3,000 annual award to any Jewish orphan interested in a career in aeronautical sciences. The school had to appeal to the courts to broaden the academic prize because there were no takers.

Finally, the courts said the money could go to any flight-minded Jew -- but a Jewish orphan would still be given preference.

With college tuition rising nearly 70 percent in the past decade, the average four-year public university now costs about $11,400 annually. More than ever, every tuition dollar counts, so any chance to defray student costs can't be ignored.

Here are some of the strangest scholarships out there:

The Lefty Scholarship -- It's great to be a southpaw at Pennsylvania's Juniata College. You can be awarded up to $1,000 if you are a lefty with sufficient grades, thanks to the Frederick and Mary Beckley Scholarship -- an endowment created by a married couple who were bounced by the school's tennis team in 1919 because of their "handicap."

Frederick and Mary became tennis partners, fell in love, and left the scholarship fund in their will as a tribute to left-handed romance. Just to show you how open-minded the Beckleys were, ambidextrous students are not excluded from applying.

The Zolp Scholarship -- Calling Mr. Zolp: A four-year, full-tuition scholarship awaits you at Chicago's Loyola University. Father William Zolp -- who had mixed feelings about his curious last name -- set up the fund in 1977. Obviously, if you go through life as a Zolp, you need all the help you can get.

The David Letterman Scholarship -- David Letterman, a graduate of Indiana's Ball State University, is a longtime champion of not-so-gifted students. Since 1985, the late-night host endows a scholarship in his name that targets "average yet creative" telecommunications majors. Forget about high grades. What are your Letterman-worthy ideas?

Two-time Letterman scholar Rich Swingley was hailed for a stop-action animation of a dancing penguin that scaled a beer bottle the size of the Empire State Building. The CBS host's generosity is legendary on campus. A plaque outside an audio room bears this dedication: "To All C-Students Before Me and After Me -- David Letterman."

The Calgon Scholarship -- Some women who shout, "Calgon take me away … to college," are rewarded with $5,000 in tuition. In one of the strangest corporate scholarships, female students are invited to answer essay questions such as this: "Calgon's Intense Eau de Parfum sprays are sophisticated, sensual, irresistible and long-lasting. Tell us what makes your closest friendship last."

The Pot Scholarship -- The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws gives out scholarships to students who write essays outlining a more "sensible" drug policy for the United States. Four years ago, the first winner, Kevin Killough (pronounced "Kilo," strangely enough) received $650 for his essay which suggests America follow Amsterdam's model of legalizing marijuana.

Many advocacy groups offer scholarships. If you can stand the final cut, the National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers holds an annual student essay contest, with cash prizes ranging up $1,000.

The Goodie-Goodie Scholarship -- To qualify, a female student at Pennsylvania's Bucknell University must not drink, smoke, chew tobacco, take drugs or participate in "strenuous athletic contests." Joseph H. Deppen, class of 1900, donated the money for this scholarship in memory of his sister. It's unclear how Bucknell officials test applicants' virtue.

Fat Acceptance Scholarship -- If you live in the Northeast and consider yourself a fat person, the New England chapter of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance offers $500 in college tuition. Applicants must respond in writing to questions about his or her attitude toward fat people and size acceptance. Skinny folk who plan to gain a "freshman 15" in their first semester need not apply.

The 8-Ball Scholarship -- Talk about tuition in the side pocket. Ohio's University of Akron doles out $1,000 scholarships to 8-ball and 9-ball champs. UA alumnus Barry Lefkowitz never spent much time in the library, but the former campus pool shark must've learned something. He's now a senior vice president at Salomon Smith Barney, and he personally officiates the Barry Lefkowitz Scholarship Billiards Tournament.

The class of '66 graduate feels so strongly about his unique academic experience that he gave the university $125,000 three years ago, so that students would have the finest billiards room on any college campus. They say when Lefkowitz shoots, people listen.

Buck Wolf is entertainment producer at "The Wolf Files" is published Tuesdays.