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Hidden scholarships could be key to alleviating college debt

Stephanie Bergmann, KSN - WICHITA, Kansas – The latest numbers show that Kansas college students will graduate with an average debt over $25,000; yet many scholarships offered locally and across the nation each year are left unused.

Financial aid advisors say this is not money that you have to be an athlete or academic genius to get. You only have to know where to look.

"I am going to Dartmouth, and the tuition for Dartmouth is $60,000," said Dominika Cornejo, a senior at Kapaun Mt. Carmel High School.

That's per year! For a four-year degree, that adds up to $240,000, a staggering amount of debt for any student or family to assume.

"Great opportunity, fabulous opportunity, but intimidating to be sure," said Dominika's mother, Kristi Cornejo.

Now, Dominika's search for scholarships takes almost as much time as her homework. She's put together a binder of more than 40 applications, many from big-name companies, like her mom's employer, Coleman, that are based on grades and leadership skills. Others are a little unconventional.

"Yea, I found a couple of strange ones, which unfortunately don't apply to me because I'm not an avid knitter or anything like that!" remarked Dominika.

That's right, a scholarship for knitting, or one for people who like asparagus, ormaking candy. If you're into technology, you could earn big money with the "$10,000Show Your Grandparents How to Use Emojis Scholarship."

A summer job might be your ticket. Every year, hundreds of golf caddies win ascholarship that's renewable for four years.

But they're not all national scholarships. Wichita State senior, Carol Gibbon, never imagined her time at the pool would pay off.

"Never actually! I didn't really think about lifeguard scholarships, but I'm really fortunate that Wichita State offers that," said Gibbon.

It's $520 per year, and combined with several other scholarships, Gibbon is debt free.

"They tend to be smaller scholarships, but never turn your nose up at those," said Gibbon. "They can be really, really helpful."

"Probably 35-40% of our freshman class receive that kind of scholarship," said Norm Jones, Vice President of Enrollment Management, Newman University.

The more obscure scholarships often come from donors, like Robert and Darlene Anderson, for something that's near and dear to their hearts — in this case, the WSU pool and its staff.

It might even be a city or school. People who live in historic Midtown Wichita or Ellis County, Kansas, qualify for scholarships at WSU.

If you went to Stucky Middle School in Wichita, you're guaranteed at least $25,000 over four years at Southwestern College in Winfield.

Newman University rewards students for doing community service.

"Probably 35-40% of our freshman class receive that kind of scholarship," said Norm Jones, Vice President of Enrollment Management, Newman University.

He says the starting points for finding these scholarships are the college you're attending and your high school counselor, then just searching the Internet for anything and everything that defines you.

"It's really kind of a part-time job. You feel like you're spending hours a week," said Kristi Cornejo.

But if writing a kooky essay about being left-handed keeps you from diving into debt, graduating seniors will tell you it's worth the work.

"I mean every little bit counts!" said Gibbon with a smile.

National scholarship links 

Alabama's Hidden History friday night at 6:30 on CBS 42

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