How to Get a Full-ride Scholarship to College

Picture of happy smiling man in navy suit holding college scholarship money
August 28, 2023


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 2/14/23

With an excellent education comes financial expenses. However, a full-ride scholarship could take care of all your college-related costs. We’ll explain full rides, including schools offering them, and provide a step-by-step guide on how to get a full-ride scholarship.

There’s no way to sugarcoat it; college can be expensive. You can mitigate the costs through student loans and grants or receive a full-ride scholarship. But what is a full-ride scholarship? These scholarships cover your full tuition, living, application, and book/material costs. 

Moreover, many full-ride scholarship programs include an enrichment fund. This additional fund covers the costs of any retreats or summer experience programs you may wish to attend. With our step-by-step guide, you’ll understand how to get a full-ride scholarship; let’s jump in! 

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

Getting a full-ride scholarship for college means demonstrating excellence in and outside the classroom. These steps will reveal how you can position yourself as the ideal full-ride scholarship applicant. 

Strive for Academic Excellence

Striving for continued academic excellence may be the most challenging part of getting a full-ride scholarship. However, a high GPA is even more impressive when you participate in the most challenging coursework available to you. AP classes or the IB program can help you elevate your transcript! 

Gain Early Professional Experience

Gaining hands-on experience through volunteer positions, internships, or entry-level jobs gives you an edge when applying for full-ride scholarships. Work experience demonstrates your achievements in real-world situations.

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

  • BRAINYAC: If you have an early interest in medicine or psychology, this program provides research-based summer internships in neuroscience labs.
  • NASA High School Internships: If you wish to enter the STEM workforce, NASA can set you up with research and experiential learning opportunities at several of their East coast facilities.
  • The Bank of America Student Leader Program: If you’re a business professional in the making, this program pairs you with paid internships in non-profit organizations. The internship is punctuated by a national leadership summit.

Through hard work and personability, you may gain enough of an employer’s confidence to secure a letter of recommendation. Recommendations are often requirements for full-ride application programs!

Get Involved With Your Academic Community

Being an active member of your academic community displays your commitment to becoming an equally eager participant at school. While the availability of clubs depends on your school, some of the most common and impressive extracurriculars include:

  • Professional Clubs: Business clubs, stock market clubs, Mathletes, mock trial clubs, science-based clubs, school newspapers, event planning, and more.
  • Political & Social Clubs: Model UN, Gay/straight alliance, class presidency, etc.
  • Sports & athletics: Basketball, football, baseball, track and field, etc.
  • Hobby clubs: Chess clubs, literary clubs, history clubs, creative writing clubs, etc. 

You can also gain leadership experience through these offerings! You can offer to help organize meet-ups, plan a fundraiser, or even start a new club (if there’s demand and your school doesn’t offer it). 

Get Involved With Your Local Community

Being a good citizen is a considerable part of being a student worthy of a full-ride scholarship for college. Here’s a quick list of places you can find volunteer experiences you can find in your area:

  • Soup kitchens and food banks
  • Elementary and junior high schools
  • Libraries and community centers
  • Cultural community centers and religious organizations

These charitable endeavors display your personability, strong values, and benevolence. Good deeds early on indicate more good deeds in college and beyond.

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 are the glue that holds your leadership, scholarship, and charitable skills together as an impressive collective. To get a full-ride scholarship, you’ll undergo a lengthy application and interview process. 

A firm grasp of written and communication skills allow you to best present your academic and practical excellence. You can sharpen your interview skills by going through each experience or achievement listed on your CV and explaining what you learned or gained. 

As for written skills, use resources like essay guides and guides on argumentative writing. When applying to colleges, investing in application support and feedback is another great asset. 

Many professional admissions counselors have experience with full-ride scholarship applications and can help you edit yours to showcase your best self! 

How to Apply for Full-Ride Scholarships

Some full-ride scholarships you may automatically be considered for, depending on the school. However, if you do need to apply for a full-ride scholarship, you’ll likely need the following: 

  • High school transcripts 
  • Application essay(s) 
  • Activities list 
  • Letters of recommendation 

You may also need to participate in a scholarship interview and provide other materials as needed (such as financial aid forms, if applicable). Always check the school’s website for more information on application pieces and deadlines! 

Schools With Full-Ride Scholarships

Not all schools offer full-ride scholarships, though many do! However, full-ride scholarships are rare among the most competitive colleges. Here’s a list of some of the top full-ride scholarships offered by the nation’s best schools:

Duke University

Duke University is a private institution located in Durham, North Carolina. U.S. News World and Report ranks Duke as the tenth-best national university. Students are required to live on campus for the first three years of attendance.

Picture of Duke University Campus
Source: Duke University

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, conferences, and two semesters of study abroad.

As the name suggests, the Robertson Scholars Leadership Program is for students who demonstrate leadership skills and academic excellence. A few other specific program expectations include: 

  • Attendance at retreats
  • Cross-campus coursework with UNC-Chapel Hill
  • Participation in community events
  • A minimum of two summer enrichment programs

The Robertson program expects continued academic excellence from its recipients. A minimum 3.0 GPA is required at the end of your first year. Recipients must have a minimum 3.30 GPA at the end of every other year.

University of California — Los Angeles

UCLA is located in the city’s Westwood neighborhood. It’s ranked as the 20th-best national university. 

Picture of UCLA's entrance
Source: UCLA

The school offers the Stamps Scholarship, which recognizes select students who: 

  • Demonstrate academic excellence
  • Possess leadership skills
  • Overcome obstacles
  • Participate in the community

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 are eligible and must be California residents. 

University of Virginia

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

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

Picture of UVA building surrounded by trees
Source: UVA Today

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. The school is ranked as the 72nd-best national university and offers the Wells Scholarship.

The Wells Scholarship Program covers attendance costs and provides extra financial support for summer grants, studies abroad, or extracurricular activities.

Picture of Indiana University at Bloomington Campus
Source: University of Indiana – Bloomington

You must be nominated by a counselor or administrator from your high school. Alternatively, you may self-nominate via email, though you’ll still have to include a recommendation from a counselor or administrator.

Winners must complete 12 credit hours of coursework per semester and maintain a cumulative/semester GPA of at least 3.40.

The Value of a Full-ride Scholarship

The actual dollar value of a full-ride scholarship is contingent upon many factors, such as your school choice, your area’s cost of living, and the price of your books. Whatever your total sum might be, a full-ride scholarship covers all school attendance costs.

A full-ride scholarship essentially gives you free passage to a bachelor’s degree. Along with 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 can attend more expensive schools and live in more expensive cities. While financial considerations may have kept you from attending a preferred school, these scholarships remove obstacles.

Less Work and More Time for Studies

Working to fund your schooling is no longer needed with a full-ride scholarship. While you may still work, you don’t need to worry about living costs. Instead, you can spend more time on your studies, extracurricular activities, or internship opportunities.

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

You can save income for after college when you may 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.

FAQs: Full-Ride Scholarships

Still have questions about how to get a full-ride scholarship? Then check out these FAQs! 

1. What’s the Difference Between a Full-Ride and Full-Tuition Scholarship?

A full-ride scholarship is primarily merit-based financial assistance covering the costs of attending a school, including tuition, living, book and materials costs, and other fees. Full-tuition scholarships only cover tuition costs. 

2. What Alternatives Are There to Full-Ride Scholarships?

There are many types of scholarships with different criteria and dollar values (most don’t cover full tuition). Other scholarship types include: 

  • Community service scholarships: This type of scholarship is for students committed to community involvement. 
  • Athletic scholarships: Athletic scholarships are an excellent option for students with the athleticism and skill required for Division I or II sports. 
  • Scholarships for underrepresented/marginalized students: These scholarships aim to support students who belong to underrepresented ethnic groups, sexualities, gender identities, etc.
  • Need-based scholarships: Need-based scholarships support students who need financial support. 

Most often, these scholarship types are not mutually exclusive; it’s common to find scholarships that blend these types! 

3. How Hard is It to Get a Full-Ride Scholarship? 

Many full-ride programs listed above emphasize their annual acceptance rates of less than 1%

4. What Are the Best Types of Extracurricular Activities for a Full-Ride Scholarship?

Any extracurriculars related to your interests and passions are best. However, finding leadership experience can help show selection committees that you’re a stellar candidate! 

5. What Does a Full-Ride Scholarship Cover? 

A full-ride scholarship covers full tuition costs, living expenses, books/materials, and other fees. Some scholarships also offer enrichment funds to offer students exciting opportunities, such as summer or study-abroad programs. 

6. What SAT Score Will Get You a Full-Ride? 

It depends – some schools may not require SAT scores as part of eligibility requirements. However, scholarships like the Wells Scholarship Program state that an (optional) SAT score of 1430 or higher helps. Always check requirements! 

7. What GPA Can Get You a Full-Ride Scholarship? 

Full-ride scholarships are awarded to students with very high GPAs. While ranges vary, we suggest striving for an unweighted GPA as close to 4.0 as possible. 

Final Thoughts

Now that you know more about how to get a full-ride scholarship, you can put your all into every application. While acceptance rates are low, our advice above can help you become a more competitive applicant. 

Remember that someone has to win a full-ride scholarship; why can’t it be you? Good luck!

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