How to Get a Full-ride Scholarship to College

Picture of happy smiling man in navy suit holding college scholarship money
September 20, 2022
The Value of a Full ScholarshipDo All Schools Offer Full-ride Scholarships?How to Get a Full-ride for College: Step by StepFull-Ride Scholarship FAQs


Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 4/11/22

With an excellent education comes great financial expense. However, a full-ride scholarship could take care of all your college-related costs. This post will explain full-rides, including a list of top schools offering the scholarship, and provide a step-by-step guide on how to get a full-ride scholarship.

A good college education requires a lot of time and energy from a student. However, nothing is as stressful as the financial costs involved. There’s a hefty dollar figure behind each class book you must buy, your housing expenses, and the dreaded cost of tuition.

You can mitigate the costs through student loans or grants, or you could learn how to get a full-ride scholarship. This type of scholarship is a financial assistance that covers your total cost of attendance. In other words, a full-ride scholarship covers your full tuition costs, your living costs, application fees, and book and material costs. A full-ride scholarship is free education.

Moreover, many full-ride scholarship programs include an enrichment fund. This additional fund is meant to cover the costs of any retreats or summer experience programs you may wish to attend. Often, these additional experience programs are required by full-ride scholarship programs. 

With our step-by-step guide, you will understand how to get a full-ride scholarship to a reputable college.

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The Value of a Full-ride Scholarship

The actual dollar value of a full-ride scholarship is contingent upon many factors, such as your choice of school, your area’s cost of living, and the price of your course books. Whatever your total sum might be, it will be a significant number. A full-ride scholarship would cover all costs related to your school attendance, no matter how considerable its final price.

Considering that a full-ride scholarship will pay for everything related to your college education, its actual dollar value is always great. In fact, a full-ride scholarship essentially gives you free passage to a bachelor’s degree.

In addition to free education and housing, a full-ride scholarship has many secondary benefits, such as the following.

Easier Access to Preferred Schools

Since a full-ride scholarship takes care of tuition and housing costs, you are free to attend more expensive schools and live in more expensive cities. While financial consideration may have kept you from attending a preferred school, a full-ride scholarship would remove that obstacle completely.

Less Need to Work and More Time for Studies

Working a job to fund your schooling is no longer needed with a full-ride scholarship. While you may still work, you are not financially obligated to work longer hours. Instead, you may spend these hours on your studies, extra-curricular activities, or internship opportunities.

More Money to Save or Allocate to Non-College/Housing-Related Expenses

The lack of expenses means you can save any income for life after college when you will have to pay your own living costs. Additionally, you can spend some money on recreation, mitigating the stresses of student life.

As wonderful as a full-ride scholarship already sounds,  many implicit benefits increase its value beyond a mere dollar figure.

Do All Schools Offer Full-ride Scholarships?

Not all schools offer full-ride scholarships, though many do! If you perform proper research, it can become easy to find. However, full-ride scholarships are especially rare among the most competitive colleges. There is a chance your ideal school  does not offer any full-ride scholarships, but there are still some excellent institutions that offer several every year. Here’s a list of some of the best schools and their offered full-rides:

Duke University

Duke University is a private institution located in Durham, North Carolina. In a recent list, U.S. News has tied Duke with four other schools as the ninth-best national university. Students are required to live on campus for the first three years of  attendance.

The school also offers the Robertson Scholars Leadership Program, which “provides eight semesters of full tuition, room and board, and most mandatory fees for Scholars at Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill.” The scholarship also provides funding for up to three summer experiences, for conferences and two semesters of study abroad.

As the name suggests, the Robertson Scholars Leadership Program is most interested in students who demonstrate leadership skills in addition to academic excellence. A few other specific program expectations include: 

The Robertson program also expects continued academic excellence from its recipients. A minimum 3.0 grade point average is required at the end of your first year; then recipients must have a minimum 3.30 GPA at the close of every subsequent year.

University of California — Los Angeles

The University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) is located in the city’s Westwood neighborhood. It is ranked as the 20th best national university and the 48th best school for undergraduate education.

The school offers the Stamps Scholarship, which recognizes select students who demonstrate academic excellence, leadership skills, overcome obstacles, and participate in community involvement. These students receive financial support for the total cost of attendance for four years. They can also apply for an enrichment fund of up to $12,000. 

You may only be given a full-ride scholarship with the Stamps Scholarship after being invited to apply. The top 1.5% of entering first-year students will be invited to apply. Also, you may only apply if you are a resident of California.

University of Virginia

The University of Virginia is located in Charlottesville,Virginia. It is ranked as the 25th best national university.

The university offers the Jefferson Scholarship and the Walentas Scholarship. Both scholarships are meant to cover the total cost of attendance with support for enrichment opportunities such as foreign travel, career development, alumni connections, and a possible exploratory fund.

You may only apply for the Jefferson or Walentas Scholarship after being nominated by your high school, based on your demonstrated leadership, scholarship, and citizenship.

Indiana University — Bloomington

Indiana University at Bloomington is a public institution with a thriving community bound together by sports and Greek life. In fact, the Indiana Hoosiers Division I basketball team has won five NCAA championships. In terms of academics, it is ranked as the 68th best national university, though it makes up for its relative mediocrity by offering the Wells Scholarship.

The Wells Scholarship Program covers the full cost of attendance for four years and provides extra financial support for summer grants, studies abroad, or extra-curricular activities.

You must be nominated for the scholarship by a counselor or administrator from your high school. Alternatively, you may self-nominate via email, though you will still have to include a letter of recommendation from a counselor or administrator.

Suppose you are one of the typical 18 students annually selected for the full-ride scholarship. In that case you are obligated to complete 12 credit hours of coursework per semester and maintain a cumulative and semester GPA of at least 3.40.

How to Get a Full-ride Scholarship: Step-By-Step

A great student can get accepted to their preferred university. However, it takes an ideal student to get accepted with a full-ride scholarship. You must demonstrate excellence in the classroom, outside the classroom, and within any clubs or groups you may be a member of.

In other words, being the best — or very close to the best — in everything you do is how to get a full-ride scholarship. This is naturally daunting, but the following step-by-step guide will compartmentalize each aspect to  make you the ideal full-ride scholarship applicant.

Strive for Academic Excellence

Being as near to a perfect student as possible is the most obvious and challenging part of getting a full-ride scholarship. For instance, the Wells Scholarship at Indiana University requires a minimum GPA of 3.90, an optional but helpful SAT score of at least 1430, and/or an ACT score of 32 or more.

An early investment in tutoring services to maintain a near-perfect GPA  and ensure high SAT/ACT scores could pay off with great returns.

However, a full-ride scholarship program will require a demonstration of your academic excellence beyond your grades alone. Participation in AP classes is a necessary bonus. Investing in early college preparation is another excellent asset for any full scholarship hopeful.

Gain Early Professional Work Experience

Gaining hands-on experience through volunteer positions, internships, or entry-level jobs will give you a massive benefit when applying to full-ride scholarships. The most obvious reason for this is that some form of work experience will demonstrate your achievement in more practical, real-world situations.

A record of work experience may also give your prospective school and full-ride program a sense of your professional ambitions. Only ideal students are given full-ride scholarships, and ideal students have clear goals for life after school and the practical sense to make good on those intentions.

Here is a list of excellent work opportunities available to high schoolers expressing an early interest in a specific disciple:

However, the relationships you cement through your work experience may be the most valuable asset you possess when getting a full scholarship. Through hard work and some personability, you may gain enough of an employer’s confidence to secure a letter of recommendation. Such a letter is often a requirement for full-ride application programs.

Get Involved With Your Academic Community

Being an active member of your academic community is a great way to display your commitment to becoming an equally eager participant at your university. Extra-curriculars offered by your school are a great and accessible way to convince your prospective college that you will be an engaging addition to university life.

While the availability of certain clubs differ from high school to high school, here is a list of some of the most common and impressive extra-curriculars:

Extra-curriculars relating to potential careers or political matters also demonstrate your intentions beyond university, giving your prospective school more confidence in you as a future alumnus it can be proud of.

These extra-curricular activities may also present you with the opportunity of a leadership role. Securing such a role is invaluable as all the full-ride scholarships listed above seek to develop future leaders who make impactful changes in the world.

Get Involved With Your Local Community

Being a good citizen is a considerable part of being a student worthy of a full-ride scholarship. Volunteering for charitable or otherwise selfless institutions is essential for access to any full-ride scholarship program. Here is a quick list of the most accessible volunteer experiences you can find in your local area:

These charitable endeavors  will display your personability, strong values, and underlying benevolence. All three of these attributes are relevant to full scholarships since the programs aim to develop professionals who will change the world for the better. Good deeds early on are an indication of more good deeds after your school years.

When getting involved with your local community, the best policy is to participate  in charitable actions that align with your genuine values. This sincerity will help guide your future ambitions at and after college.

Develop Excellent Written and Communication Skills

Deft powers of articulation serve as the glue that holds your leadership, scholarship, and charitable skills together as an impressive collective. To get a full-ride scholarship, you will have to go through lengthy application and interview processes. A firm grasp of written and communication skills will allow you to best present your academic and practical excellence.

You can sharpen your interview skills by going through your each experience or achievement listed on your CV and developing a convincing reason why it makes you an excellent candidate. For instance, you can preconceive an argument stating how a summer job helped cultivate your interpersonal skills, problem-solving skills, and/or leadership skills. In other words, sell yourself.

As for your written skills, you can use resources like essay guides for specific schools, online dictionaries and thesauruses, and/or guides on more general argumentative writing. They Say, I Say by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein is an invaluable asset for any academic or otherwise persuasive writing.  

When applying to colleges, investing in application support and/or feedback is another great asset. It will give you a better sense of writing the best scholarship applications possible later on. You can also invest time in editing your applications by reading a guide on application writing.

Full-Ride Scholarship FAQs

Do you still have questions about scholarships? Read on below to discover our answers to several commonly asked scholarship questions.

1. What is the difference between a full-ride and a full-tuition scholarship?

A full-ride scholarship (such as the ones listed above) is primarily a merit-based financial assistance that covers all the costs related to attending a school, including tuition, book and materials costs, fees, and any living-related costs. As a rule-of-thumb, a full-ride scholarship is only given to students who rank in the top 5% of their high school graduating class.

A full-tuition scholarship is a financial assistance that covers the entire tuition cost only. Any additional fees like book and material costs, living costs, and more will not be supported by the scholarship. This means it is your responsibility to pay the rest of the cost of attendance that the full-tuition scholarship does not account for.

2. What alternatives are there to full-ride scholarships?

There are many types of scholarships with different criteria and different dollar values. Here is a list of a few more easily obtainable alternatives to full-ride academic scholarships:

Most often, these scholarship types are not mutually exclusive. It is much more common to find a scholarship that combines the requirements of two or more scholarship types.

3. How likely is it to get a full-ride scholarship?

As it is extremely difficult to get a full-ride scholarship, it is not an entirely reliable way to pay for your schooling. In fact, many of the full-ride programs listed above emphasize their annual acceptance rates of less than 1%. 

Because of this, it is a good idea to also apply to other types of scholarships, or to explore other methods of paying for your cost of attendance. Still, after reading this guide on how to get a full-ride scholarship, you will certianly have an edge over your competition. Be bold! Apply for every scholarship you can, especially the full-ride scholarships!

4. What type of work experience opportunities can I pursue?

You can talk with your high school counselor to get an early idea of the best career paths for you. After settling on one or two possibilities, you may then inquire about internships, volunteer positions, co-op placements, and job-shadowing opportunities.

You can refer to the list of internship programs above to get a sense of some of the best work experience opportunities available for US high school students. It’s also a good idea to look online for any previously stated opportunities within your city or relevant remote positions.

5. What are the best type of extra-curricular activities for a full-ride scholarship?

Any extra-curriculars related to possible career paths or political endeavors are the most favorable to both schools and scholarship programs. It is also a good idea to participate in extra-curriculars with a leadership role, with the ultimate goal of gaining leadership experience in that role.

Final Thoughts

Our guide on how to get a full-ride scholarship will make the arduous process just a bit easier. After reading, you now have the benefit of knowing what a full-ride scholarship is, the best national universities that offer full-ride scholarships, specific full-ride scholarship programs, and how to get a full-ride scholarship by pursuing academic excellence, real-world experience and community service. 

While the odds are still against every applicant to a full scholarship program, the advice above comes with the invaluable benefit of making you a better student, citizen and future professional.

And with the help of this post on how to get a full-ride scholarship, there is always a chance that you will be among the very lucky few to obtain a full scholarship. 

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