By now, high school seniors likely have made their college decisions, and they’re figuring out how to pay for tuition, room and board.

With 44.5 million student loan borrowers owing about $1.5 trillion, according to federal statistics, every bit of financial assistance helps. To give back to the communities they serve, electric cooperatives with scholarship programs typically award them to high school seniors whose parents are consumer-members. Some prizes, though, have unusual qualifying criteria or application processes. Here’s a look at a few of them:

Winners by Chance

Grades and extracurricular activities don’t decide the winners of the Luck of the Draw scholarship offered by Choptank Electric Cooperative. As the name suggests, 10 winners are chosen randomly. But there’s a catch: Applicants vying for the $1,000 awards must complete a quiz on electric co-ops.

A larger motive is at work, said Beth Gertsch, manager of marketing, communications and member engagement at the Denton, Maryland, co-op. “The directors created the scholarship to boost younger attendance at annual meetings, and we hope they’ll listen and understand the process and get excited about the business model.”

Drawings take place at the co-op’s annual meeting. Applicants must show up at 6 p.m. sharp with their parents and stay for the whole meeting to win. That’s also intentional, said Gertsch. “Afterwards, several parents told us that they didn’t realize they were actively invested in the co-op. Some have mentioned that they would come back and participate again.”

It’s Never Too Late

Trico Electric Cooperative in Marana, Arizona, sets aside at least one scholarship for a nontraditional student—an older, first-time college student or someone returning to college after a lengthy absence. Since 2011, the co-op has awarded 10 scholarships to nontraditional students—$5,500 for four-year institutions and $2,250 for community colleges. The funding source is unclaimed capital credits.

The Great Recession led the Trico Foundation to create a scholarship just for adults, said Monica Pugno, marketing and communications specialist at TEC.

“With the economy, a lot of people were losing their jobs and were choosing to go back to school to get a degree or training,” she said.

The co-op wants to encourage more adults to apply, so it’s reaching out to community colleges and trade schools, as well as to a local casino operated by the Pascua Yaqui Tribe.

Brenda Pollack, a grandmother and Air Force veteran, learned about the scholarship when her son, Ryan, won a two-year prize. At 52, she’s earning an associate’s degree in business management at Cochise College while working full time.

Since leaving the military more than 10 years ago, Pollack was ineligible for financial aid and could only afford to take one class at a time. Now, she can finish her coursework and graduate in December.

“I pride myself on time organization and this is how I manage to get it all done,” said Pollack. “I can’t thank Trico enough for making this possible.”

A Second Chance

York Electric Cooperative helped Patti Hansen prove her high school guidance counselor wrong after being told so many years ago that she wasn’t “college material.”

Hansen received the Jenny Ballard Opportunity Scholarship, a $2,500 award from a community service group affiliated with the York, South Carolina, co-op.

“I wanted to be a role model for my teenage daughter and to empower myself,” said Hansen, in describing the award as a “fantastic opportunity.” The mother of three got straight A’s while earning an associate’s degree in business management at York Technical College in Rock Hill--all while working full time.

Adult women like Hansen are the focus of the scholarship awarded by Women Involved in Rural Electrification (WIRE), part of The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina in Cayce. Now in its second decade, the $2,500 award goes to a co-op member starting or returning to college. The recipient must have graduated from high school or earned a GED at least 10 years ago.

WIRE volunteers hold fundraisers to finance the scholarships, and over the past few years they’ve raised enough money to offer more awards. An adult college student herself, WIRE’s Peggy Dantzler said, “We’ve been blessed.”

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