Full Ride Scholarships: What They Are and How They Work

ASO Staff Writers
Updated May 13, 2024
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With the average cost of college reaching $34,740 in the 2017-18 school year, students and parents are looking for ways to reduce the cost of higher education. While most scholarships and grants can chip away at the total cost, there’s usually some left to be covered – unless you’ve earned a full ride scholarship. Full ride scholarships cover the cost of tuition and more, removing the difficulty from paying for an education. These scholarships are available to all types of students, too, and there are plenty of full ride opportunities available.

Understanding Full Ride Scholarships

The term “full ride scholarship” gets tossed around a lot, but many people don’t know what it entails. To help clear things up, we’ve addressed some common questions students and parents have about full ride scholarships below.

What is a full ride scholarship?

A full ride scholarship is an award that covers all expenses related with college. This includes tuition, books, fees, room and board, and possibly even living costs. The goal is to remove any need for additional financial aid.

What are the different types of full ride scholarships?

Anyone can be eligible for a full ride scholarship, depending on their background, skills and expertise. Most students earn full ride scholarships because of their academic history, athletic prowess, leadership or merit. But other types of these scholarships can be offered by schools for different reasons, and they can be offered by the school, state or federal government or by private organizations.

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    These scholarships are offered for students that have demonstrated excellence leadership, service or another area. Sometimes, students that show great promise are also offered full ride scholarships.
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    Students that show athletic prowess can earn full ride scholarships to some Division I or II schools. Full ride athletic scholarships are only offered to football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball, volleyball, tennis and gymnastics.
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    Some state programs will cover the cost of college for students. These vary state by state and are often only usable at specific public universities.
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    The government offers full ride scholarships to some students. Some common full ride scholarships offered by the government are for ROTC students, or students studying at a military academy.
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    One of the most common types of full ride scholarships, merit-based scholarships are reserved for students that have shown academic excellence. This is usually determined through GPA, SAT scores, ACT scores or through a combination of the three.
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    Financial need based

    Students from lower income homes can be eligible for full ride scholarships at some schools. There are also private full ride scholarships that use prestige or merit and financial need to determine recipients.
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    Additional Options

    There are full ride scholarships offered for a number of reasons. Some scholarships require a specific heritage, and others can be legacy based. Just about any incoming college freshman could be eligible for some type of full ride scholarship.

Do all schools offer full ride scholarships?

Not all schools offer full ride scholarships, but many do. Also, because some full ride scholarships come from different areas, students could end up studying at any institution without having to worry about the cost of education.

What’s the difference between full ride and full tuition scholarships?

Full tuition scholarships usually only cover the cost of education, which includes tuition, book fees and other education fees. However, these scholarships likely don’t offer help with room and board, living costs or travel costs.

Can transfer students earn full ride scholarships?

Yes, even if they’re transferring from a community or two-year college. Each school will have their own process for transfer students having the chance to land a full ride scholarship, so it’s best to check in with your school of choice.

How hard is it to get a full ride scholarship?

Less than 1 percent of students get full ride scholarships, showing just how difficult it is to earn one. However, with the right background, proper planning and by knowing where to look, your chances of landing a full ride scholarship can increase.

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5 Expert Tips to Winning Full Ride Scholarships

Finding a full ride scholarship without any help can be difficult. Fortunately, there are experts who have plenty of experience connecting students to the right scholarship opportunities. Here are some tips from Veronica Schofield, an academic success coach:

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    Look at your heritage

    Some scholarships don’t require academic or athletic success. Your heritage or any other affiliation can lead to private full ride scholarships that are accepted at any accredited institution.

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    All athletics can count

    While Division I sports only offer full ride scholarships to 6 sports, private organizations also offer full ride scholarships for athletics. “I know of a Bowling League that offers a full-ride scholarship!” —Veronica Schofield

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    Keep applying!

    Each application is a chance to practice, and the more you apply to, the stronger your applications will become.

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    Be creative

    Many students are eligible for full ride scholarships — they just haven’t found the right scholarship to apply to yet.

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    Always apply

    If you think you have a chance at earning a full ride scholarship, then apply.

“Students shouldn’t make the mistake of not applying because they don’t think they’ll win — they’ll never know if they don’t apply.”

—Veronica Schofield

16 Full Ride Scholarships to Help Pay for College

We’ve covered what full ride scholarships are and how to find them. To let you know what some of the full ride scholarships available are, here are some specific examples.

Schools that Offer Full Ride Scholarships on Merit

Merit can mean different things, but generally a merit-based full ride scholarship requires excellence in academics, leadership or service. Some schools recognize merit by offering full ride and full tuition scholarships.

Boston University: Trustee Scholarship

Available to students with exceptional academic credentials, most of the Trustee Scholarship recipients have a perfect 4.0 GPA in high school. Students who earn this scholarship also demonstrate creativity, experience and achievement. This scholarship is offered to about 20 students each year and is renewable for four years.

Deadline: Early December

Loyola Marymount University: Trustee Scholarship

Available to all incoming freshmen, the trustee scholarship is offered to ten students over four years. Included in the scholarship is full tuition and room and board. This scholarship is awarded based off academic scholarship.

Deadline: Early February

Texas Christian University: Chancellor’s Scholars Program

Along with being offered a full tuition scholarship, Chancellor’s Scholars are invited to special retreats, luncheons and dinners, social activities and more. There are no minimum requirements, but students who earn this scholarship generally have SAT and ACT scores of 2150 and 33, respectively.

Deadline: Early December

Vanderbilt University: Cornelius Vanderbilt Scholarship

Named after the founder of the school, the Cornelius Vanderbilt Scholarship offers full tuition as well as a one-summer stipend for immersion, such as studying abroad. This is awarded to students who show a combination of academic and leadership achievement.

Deadline: Early December

Wake Forest University: Nancy Susan Reynolds Scholarship

The Nancy Susan Reynolds Scholarship covers tuition and room and board, as well as offering $3,400 annually for personal expenses. This award is offered to students that take the hardest courses available and have among the best GPA and/or test scores in the nation. Each year, up to five recipients are selected.

Deadline: Mid-November

Washington University in St. Louis: John B. Ervin Scholars Program

The John B. Ervin Scholars Program combines intellectual, leadership and service achievement with Washington University’s commitment to diversity. This scholarship offers full-tuition as well as a $2,500 stipend, and it is renewable each year.

Deadline: Early January

Schools that Offer Full Ride Scholarships on Financial Need

With the rising costs of college, financial need-based full ride scholarships are becoming more common. Some schools, like Harvard and Yale, even offer full ride scholarships to all students from low income households. For other schools, here are some financial need-based full ride scholarships:

Agnes Scott College: Goizueta Foundation Scholarship

Focused primarily toward Hispanic/Latina women who demonstrate significant financial need, the Goizueta Foundation Scholarship has a four-year value of $208,000 – more than enough to cover tuition, room and board. Preference is also given to students that show academic and/or leadership achievement.

Deadline: Mid-January

Davidson University: Charles Scholarship

Covering everything from tuition to personal expenses, the Charles Scholarship is awarded to up to three students each year. These are available to academically excellent graduates of Chicago public schools who demonstrate significant financial need.

Deadline: Early January

Soka University: Soka Opportunity Scholarship

Covering up to the cost of tuition, the Soka Opportunity Scholarship covers any additional costs of education after other grants and scholarships are taken into consideration. This scholarship is for students whose families make less than $60,000 per year and have never gone to college.

Deadline: Late March

University of Miami: George W. Jenkins Scholarship

Awarded to students that have overcome adversity to succeed, the George W. Jenkins Scholarship places an emphasis on financial need. The scholarship covers tuition, room and board, health insurance, a meal plan and a laptop stipend, as well as the potential for additional stipends for books, transportation and personal expenses.

Deadline: Early December

University of Rochester: Alan and Jane Handler Endowed Scholarship

Students that have shown academic excellence and strong character are considered ideal candidates for the Alan and Jane Handler Endowed Scholarship. Given to students with financial need, this scholarship covers all costs of college, down to travel and personal expenses.

Deadline: Early December

Private Full Ride Scholarships and Awards

Full ride scholarships are available privately as well. These scholarships often require students to study in a specific state or specific school and may require students to study in a specific field.

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: Gates Millennium Scholars Program

Students who want to study in computer science, education, engineering, math, public science or health are eligible for the Gates Millennium Scholars Program. A 3.3 minimum GPA is required, and applicants must be diverse. This award covers all costs of tuition, including graduate school.

Deadline: Late November

Flinn Foundation: Flinn Scholarship Program

Students that plan to attend a public university in Arizona are eligible for the Flinn Scholarship. The program covers tuition and room and board, as well as any study abroad experiences students are interested in. Students must be Arizona residents – beyond that, all students are welcome to apply.

Deadline: Late October

Jack Kent Cooke Foundation: College Scholarship Program

While the award varies from student to student, the goal of the College Scholarship Program is to cover most or all the cost of education. Applicants must have a 3.5 GPA or higher, and family income must be lower than $95,000.

Deadline: Late October

JP Morgan: Thomas G. Labrecque Smart Start Program

The Smart Start Program gives New York City high school seniors a full ride scholarship to school, along with a paid internship at JP Morgan. Applicants must be from New York City, and they should have an interest in a career at a financial services firm.

Deadline: Mid-January

The Society for Science: Regeneron Science Talent Search

There are multiple awards offered through the Regeneron Science Talent Search, and the top award is $250,000 – more than enough to cover education. Applicants must compete in the Regeneron Science Talent Search to be eligible.

Deadline: Varies

Other College Costs to Consider

A scholarship may be described as “full ride,” but that doesn’t always mean that every expense will be covered. Here are other costs you should consider even if you get a full ride scholarship:

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    Books and supplies

    Book fees and studying supplies can add up quickly. You may be required to get a dozen books a year, or even a new computer for studying and writing.

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    Room and board

    Your scholarship might pay for all, some or none of your room and board. In some areas (like New York or California), the cost of living can be incredibly high, meaning you’ll need to budget for this.

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    Personal expenses

    While students go to college to learn, they’ll need money for personal expenses, like buying new clothes or going to the movies. Full ride scholarships are rarely going to cover these expenses.

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    Travel Costs

    Many students leave their home city and state to pursue an education. Visiting their families for the holidays or during the summer means travelling, and plane tickets can add up.

Alternative Ways to Pay for College

Students don’t need to rely on a full ride scholarship to be able to afford a college education. There are other ways students pay for college, all of which can be easier than depending on the chance of a full ride. Here are some alternative ways students afford college:

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