It’s every student’s dream: getting all the money you need to cover school expenses for a year—in one scholarship—and for free! It’s rare, but this could be you if you’re lucky enough to get a full-ride scholarship
What’s a full-ride scholarship?
It’s a financial award, like any other scholarship, but with a difference—it covers all your college expenses. And not just tuition—a full-ride scholarship also covers your housing, meals, books, lab fees, and sometimes even living costs. In money terms, it can be worth anywhere from $20,000 to more than $50,000, depending on your school’s costs. And more than just money, in some cases, it can also include participation in special leadership programs, internships, and peer mentoring at your college.
Note: There’s a similar-sounding award—a full-tuition scholarship. Like the name says, this will pay for your tuition but not your other expenses. Not too shabby, but the full ride is the real golden ticket.
How do you get a full-ride scholarship?
Not surprisingly, a full-ride scholarship is very competitive. It can focus on academic standing, athletic skill, leadership, or merit; financial need isn’t necessarily a requirement. The important thing is to start out with an honest self-evaluation. What are your biggest strengths? What makes you really shine and stand apart from others in your class?
It’s hard to generalize, but you can increase your chances by making yourself stand out in one or more areas, and the earlier you can start to develop these unique qualities, the better:
- Full-ride academic scholarship: Be at the top of your class with a great GPA, take AP/honors classes, and get perfect (or close to perfect) SAT or ACT scores. Along with academic merit, it also helps to also have leadership skills or community involvement, too (see below).
- Full-ride leadership scholarship: This is one of the basic qualities that schools and organizations look for; you could be a student class officer, organize a club, devote your spare time to community service, or have a unique internship.
- Full-ride athletic scholarship: You’ll need to excel in your high school team (and rank toward the top of your state, too) so a school wants you badly enough for their program. Division 1 sports offer full-ride scholarships to six different sports, but there are organizations for other sports.
- Other types of full-ride scholarships: This can include being the first-infamily to attend college, having a specific heritage, or overcoming significant life challenges. Some universities (like the University of Virginia) have full-ride scholarships based on financial need.
What types of full-ride scholarships are available?
These scholarships are most often awarded by a school or a private organization. Universities award these scholarships to sweeten the deal when they’re trying to attract a certain type of student to their campus.
Organizations or companies may offer them for a specific field of study, like STEM, or even for a certain affiliation. Here’s just a few examples; for a complete listing, use a free scholarship database, like Scholarship Search:
- Colleges with free-ride scholarships: A number of colleges have these programs—The Jefferson Scholarship covers students who go to the University of Virginia; the Torch Scholars Program helps students at Northeastern University. Some schools, like Alabama State University and the University of Notre Dame also offer scholarships based on SAT/ACT scores.
- Government: There’s a U.S. Air Force ROTC Scholarship for use at any private institution with an ROTC affiliation. (The Navy offers similar ones.) The USDA/1890 National Scholars Program has awards for students pursuing degrees in agriculture and related disciplines at historically Black land-grant colleges and universities. Plus, some states offer scholarships to residents.
- Foundations/companies: The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation has scholarships for students with financial need in any field of study. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation offers The Gates Scholarship for use at any U.S. accredited college. And the Strive Foundation awards Stamps Scholarships that are good at 36 colleges around the country. And Coca-Cola has a Scholars Program.