Augustana College rewards cool photos with cold hard cash

What could be more comfy than an old cotton T-shirt, especially when it makes you four figures?

Augustana College encouraged students to try the institution on for size by slipping into an Augustana tee--and a creative frame of mind--for the inaugural Good Fit scholarship competition. Like "Dancing Matt" with a twist, high schoolers simply snap a photo of themselves wearing an Augie tee in quirky scenes, then enlist friends and family to vote for their entry. The winners of the inaugural contest, decided via popular vote, snagged one of five $1,000 scholarships and a form of instant Internet celebrity any parent would be proud of.

Students who tour or interview at the Rock Island, Ill. campus receive a basic white Augustana shirt with a department-store style tag urging them to visit the Good Fit website. Prospective students then take a picture of themselves wearing an Augie tee in creative situations, which might range from jumping on a trampoline to embracing another university's mascot, in hopes of earning one of five $1,000, one-time scholarships and Internet immortality.Augustana Director of Admission and Recruitment Meghan Cooley says the idea sprang from students themselves, who are used to "sharing almost their every thought process" online. What began as a way to showcase their character and creativity emerged as an offbeat yet heartwarming way to document familiar life stage. According to Cooley, prospective college students from across Illinois and across the country bond over the often solitary process of choosing the environment where they'll spend four years of their lives.

Augustana further encouraged entrants to connect with their future peers through the contest's voting system. The photo with the most social networking "likes," via Facebook, Digg or Delicious, garnered the People's Choice Award. Cooley said the collaborative nature of the university reflected in the future students' snapshots.

Fittingly, one of the five categories for entrants was best group shot. Keegan Horack of Chillicothe, Ill. won over voters by posing with an icy counterpart -- a diminutive snowman wearing an Augustana t-shirt. Horack, sporting a similar college shirt, beams and flashes a thumbs up, instructing Augustana to "snow me the money." The high school senior and future pre-dental student was swayed by the scenery of the 115-acre campus, and remains "pretty sure" he will attend Augustana in the fall of 2010.

Horack was not the only entrant who displayed his love of the outdoors. Among the five winners and eight honorable mention photos, contest winner Kelsey C. posed against the Niagara Falls, while Matt P. posed by the world's largest otter. Outrageous and picturesque backdrops divided the voters' focus, earning Melissa McMahon (pictured in this article) $1,000 prize for her "going ape for Augie!" shot.

The idea came to McMahon and her parents on a whim while driving past a Chevrolet dealership. " I entered the scholarship because it seemed like fun, and I could show some of my personality," said McMahon. "Plus, I love photography, and I just thought, 'What a great scholarship for me!'"

The future physical therapy major and Moline, Ill. native wasn't the only one who caught voters' eyes with verbal and photographic creativity. Cooley said that the captions were an unexpected dimension of students' creativity, impressing administrators at a college dedicated to uncovering students' academic, cocurricular and social fit before they arrive on campus.

Allyssa Powles of Wadsworth, Ill. demonstrated her love for athletics and bounding enthusiasm for Augustana College. The softball player and future physician assistant student knew she wanted to capture an action shot, yet it wasn't until her younger sisters suggested a backyard trampoline that an idea became a front-page legend. Entering the contest seemed as good a fit as Augustana itself: "It seemed like a fun scholarship and [a chance at] $1,000," said Powles "Why not?"

Unusual scholarship criteria are the stuff of legend and some universities. From characteristics (left-handedness, height) to last names (Zolp, anyone?), students who don't fit the mold can go to extremes in search of funding. Most Good Fit participants expressed excitement about a scholarship that had no academic or financial criteria. Still, student ingenuity shone through: Most entrants received little to no assistance in either generating ideas or capturing their vision.

Cooley and company plan to continue the contest next year. And alumni interest led to the development of a fifth category: alumni group shots. The addition may expand the networking aspect of the contest beyond social networking, but Cooley anticipates that the contest will retain its lighthearted appeal. "[Good Fit] feeds on itself and provides people an opportunity to share things with family and friends." The goal may be communal, but Good Fit provides students with a $1,000 head start on their education and a college they can call their own.
Read Full Story

From Our Partners