Make a video and win a $10K scholarship

When it comes to getting into college, a thick, lucky-looking acceptance envelope from your dream school is more than a mere envelope -- it might as well be one of Mr. Wonka's golden tickets. But unlike those bratty little kids who won their free rides just by opening a candy bar, you've got to pay for yours. And pay dearly, according to today's tuition rates.

College tuition costs have skyrocketed to nearly eight times the average rates just three decades ago. Public in-state schools now cost about $6,000 per year on average, while private college will run you about $30,000. So it's not surprising that students and their parents are willing to do just about anything to lighten the burden. Like entering a video contest for a few extra bucks.

That's exactly what Chicago's Michelle Sanbourn and Tiffany Mink, of Bristol, Va. did, and happily won $10,000 each for their efforts. Their homemade 30-second spots were chosen as winners of the third-annual Tuition Tales, an online video contest from Upromise, which is a free program from Sally Mae that lets users rack up college savings when they make purchases from various retail partners.

Featuring her son Brian playing a mean blues guitar, Sanbourn's video won more than 6,343 online votes. Their ditty -- and what college-bound family couldn't relate to lyrical gems like "We've got the blues/the low-savings, high-tuition, empty-pocket blues" -- earned 17 year-old Brian $10,000 for his education. And it couldn't have come as a better time.

"It was just getting so nerve-racking," his mother says. "Like everyone, you try to save and you think you're doing okay." But like many others, their family lost a portion of their savings in the 2008 stock market decline.

Sanbourn found out about the contest after her sister in Boston forwarded a newspaper clipping of a local girl playing guitar to win last year's Tuition Tales contest. Thinking of her son's love of music, she immediately signed up for a Upromise account and anxiously waited for this year's contest. When they found out they won, "We were jumping, we were just so excited," Sanbourn says. "We were just so thankful."

Brian is just a high school junior and hasn't applied to college yet, but he's eying the University of North Texas and their well-respected jazz studies program. The scholarship will pay for about half of his freshman year, Sanbourn said.

Mink, a music aficionado who describes herself on her own website as a "23-year-old college grad surviving the real world" spared no time in her video cutting right to the chase: "I think that the real question is, 'What am I not doing to pay for college?'" Mink says. She paints custom shoes, sells vintage clothing, writes two music blogs, and is planning her own wedding.

Clearly, spending the time and effort to craft clever 30-second pitches paid off big for Mink and the Sanbourns, but don't fret if you missed this particular contest. The interwebs are chock-full of wacky, weird scholarship contests (duct tape prom outfits, anyone?) and even a simple google search yields more scholarship leads than you can shake a spirit stick at.

Check out Upromise's year-round free program to see if they can help you save those pennies-Sanbourn raved about it, saying she's become "obsessed" with the program and that it's easy to use. Or click over to other well-known sites like Fastweb, FinAid or Scholarship Hunter to browse more scholarships and contests.

Do the research and plan ahead -- because nothing ruins that acceptance letter joy like the empty-pocket blues.