Image: College graduates © Ariel Skelley,Blend Images,Getty Images

Related topics: college, scholarships, college tuition, financial aid, education

For two Colorado students, duct tape helped seal dreams of a college education.

As part of a scholarship competition, Izzy Bristow and John Dyer used nearly 40 rolls of the tacky stuff to create off-the-wall fashions: prom suits and gowns in royal blue. The shiny adhesive outfits -- hers with a detachable peacock-patterned collar -- took 90 hours to construct and netted them $3,000 each as winners of the Stuck at Prom Scholarship Contest sponsored by marketers of the Duck brand tape.

"I was shocked," says Bristow, who is now studying costume design at Western Oregon University. "But it was pretty cool to know that I could do something other than write an essay to get a scholarship."

While a few thousand bucks may barely put a dent in annual college tuition costs these days, plenty of strapped students are chasing down obscure microgrants -- scholarships with requirements that are nonacademic and sometimes downright bizarre.

Intrepid types can find awards for vegetarians, nudists or so-so students with creative abilities. Some grants require a special knack for sewing or playing the bagpipes; others can be secured only by fate, such as having a particular last name or a towering physique.

How's the weather up there?

The Tall Clubs International gives grants of $1,000 to men who stand at least 6 feet 2 inches or women 5 feet 10 and over.

Applicants need to have good grades, write an essay about "What Being Tall Means" and offer proof of their height. To satisfy the main requirement, most applicants submit to a measuring session at one of the club's local chapters.

The food industry serves up a smorgasbord of offerings. The National Potato Council provides a $5,000 award to a graduate student pursuing curricula in agribusiness that "enhance the potato industry," according to contest rules.

The Scholar Athlete Milk Mustache of the Year (SAMMY) hands 25 students scholarships in the amount of $7,500 each, plus a trip to Disney World and the chance to star in a "Got Milk?" mustache ad.

Thousands of American individuals, associations, foundations and corporations pony up more than $3 billion in private scholarships each year, according to Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FastWeb, an online scholarship guide.

These include prestigious awards such as National Merit scholarships and other traditional prizes.

More offbeat aid tracked by Kantrowitz starts out at about $250 and can reach tens of thousands of dollars.