Scholarships for the Less-Than-Gifted

It's that time of year when all kids feel like geeks: The first day of school. If you're feeling like total loser who'll never get ahead in life, cheer up. There are people who will give you money for college simply for being left-handed — or fat.

Having brains like Einstein never hurts when you're filling out a college application. And if you're expecting a free ride to a top school, it's not a bad idea to be 6-foot-10 with a 45-inch vertical leap.

Still, the National Scholarship Research Center estimates that the private charitable organizations donate about $50 billion to the U.S. educational system. About 3.5 percent of that money, almost $1 billion, goes undistributed, so it might pay to check it out.

If you think you have a future in harness racing, the Harness Tracks of America scholarship is worth up to $3,000. If you wish to advance in the field of shade trees, the International Society of Arboriculture wants to help you.

There are some scholarships that 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 scholarship because there were no takers.

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

Many more scholarships award money to people with average grades who don't have the sort of talents that would land them in the student newspaper.

Here are a few of the oddball scholarships that can help catapult a young mind to new heights.

Oddball Scholarships

The Fat Scholarship — If you are a fat high school senior in the New England area, you can win a $500 scholarship to a two- or four-year college or university. 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 year need not apply.

David Letterman Scholarship — Ball State University's most distinguished celebrity grad, David Letterman has always supported not-so-gifted students. Grades are unimportant to the Late Night host. He wants to foster creativity. The David Letterman Telecommunications Scholarship Program gives awards of up to $10,000 to advance fertile minds. Two-time winner Rich Swingley demonstrated Letterman-worthy work with the stop-action animation of a dancing penguin that scaled a beer bottle the size of the Empire State Building.

Letterman's generosity is legendary on campus. Outside an audio room that bears his name is this dedication: "To All C-Students Before Me and After Me — David Letterman."

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. Applicants must be a junior or a senior. Winners of the Frederick and Mary Beckley Scholarhip can also be ambidextrous. The admissions office couldn't tell me much about the origins of this scholarship, but they assure me that Fred and Mary were lefties.

Goodie-Goodie Scholarship — To qualify, a 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 the scholarship in memory of his sister. It's unclear how they test applicants' virtue.

The Pot Scholarship — The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) gives out scholarships to students who write essays outlining a more "sensible" drug policy for the United States. Kevin Killough (pronounced like "kilo," strangely enough) received $650 last year for his essay, which suggests America follow the Dutch model of legalizing marijuana.

The Zolp Scholarships — Perhaps you or someone you know is named "Zolp." If so, this is your lucky day. The Zolp Scholarship at Loyola University in Chicago offers a four-year, full-tuition scholarship. Be prepared to present your birth certificate to the bursar's office.

Buck Wolf is entertainment producer at The Wolf Files is published Tuesdays and Thursdays. If you want to receive weekly notice when a new column is published, join the e-mail list.