How to Get a Full-ride Scholarship to College

Picture of happy smiling man in navy suit holding college scholarship money
April 29, 2024
7 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 2/12/24

With an excellent education comes financial expenses. However, a full-ride scholarship could take care of all your college-related costs. We’ll cover the definition of a full-ride scholarship as well as how to get one.

College education can be a financial burden, but there are ways to alleviate the cost, such as through student loans, grants, or securing a scholarship. Many financial aids provide an enrichment fund, which can be used for extracurricular activities such as retreats or summer programs. 

Our comprehensive guide will walk you through the process of obtaining a full-ride scholarship, providing you with the necessary steps to enhance your chances of receiving this comprehensive form of financial aid.

What Is A Full-Ride Scholarship?

A full-ride scholarship is a type of financial aid that covers the entirety of a student's college expenses, including tuition, room and board, textbooks, and potentially travel and supplies. Unlike partial scholarships, which only cover a portion of these expenses, full-ride scholarships award students with college attendance without incurring any out-of-pocket costs. 

These scholarships are highly competitive and are often awarded to both in-state and out-of-state students based on academic excellence, athletic talent, or other significant achievements and talents.

Types of Full-Ride Scholarships

Full-ride scholarships can be categorized into different types. Each type of full-ride scholarship is designed to support students with different strengths and backgrounds, making higher education accessible to a diverse range of talented individuals. Students interested in these awards should research and tailor their applications to the requirements of each scholarship.

1. Athletic Scholarships

Full-ride athletic scholarships are often awarded to student-athletes who excel in a particular sport. These scholarships cover tuition, fees, room and board, and other related expenses. 

Recipients are typically chosen based on their exceptional athletic abilities, sportsmanship, and potential contribution to the university's sports programs.

2. Merit-Based Scholarships in Specific Fields

Some full-ride scholarships focus on specific academic disciplines or fields of study. 

These scholarships recognize students with outstanding achievements and potential in areas such as STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), humanities, business, or other specialized fields. 

The criteria often include academic performance, research, and a strong commitment to the chosen field.

3. Leadership Scholarships

Leadership scholarships are awarded to students who have demonstrated exceptional leadership skills and a commitment to making a positive impact in their communities. 

These scholarships cover the full cost of attendance and are often granted by organizations looking to support future leaders and change-makers.

4. Community Service or Social Impact Scholarships

Some scholarships focus on students who have a strong record of community service or a commitment to social impact initiatives. 

These awards cover the full cost of education and are designed to recognize and support individuals who have made a meaningful difference in their communities.

5. Entrepreneurship Scholarships

Entrepreneurial scholarships are awarded to students who have demonstrated innovative thinking, a passion for entrepreneurship, and a track record of developing and implementing creative ideas. 

These scholarships aim to support students in pursuing their entrepreneurial goals and may cover all educational expenses.

While there are many full-ride scholarships available to students, it’s important to know which ones you qualify for depending on your financial situation.

If you’re confident that you have a good shot at a merit scholarship, you can a comprehensive list of merit-based scholarships - many of which are full-ride scholarships - in our database!

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

Securing a full-ride scholarship for college requires a combination of preparation, research, and dedication. Here are key steps to increase your chances of obtaining one: 

1. 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!

2. 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 discipline:

  • 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!

3. 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). 

4. 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.

5. 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 allows 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! 

6. Meet Deadlines

Meeting deadlines is an important aspect of success in any endeavor, including scholarship applications. Timely submission not only reflects your organizational skills but also demonstrates your commitment and respect for the application process. 

By prioritizing deadlines, you not only ensure that your application receives the attention it deserves but also convey to evaluators that you are a conscientious and dedicated candidate worthy of their consideration.

7. Apply for Multiple Scholarships

Applying for multiple scholarships is a strategic and proactive approach to securing financial support for your education. 

Diverse scholarship opportunities cater to a range of qualifications, backgrounds, and achievements, allowing you to tap into various avenues that align with your strengths and experiences. By casting a wide net, you increase your chances of receiving funding, as different scholarships have distinct criteria and priorities. 

This approach also enables you to showcase the breadth of your skills, accomplishments, and aspirations, presenting a comprehensive picture of your qualifications to scholarship committees.

How to Apply for Full-Ride Scholarships

Applying for full-ride scholarships involves highlighting your qualifications and standing out among applicants. As a coveted award for college admission, applying for full-ride scholarships is highly competitive. Follow these steps to apply effectively:

  1. Maintain Excellent Academic Records: Achieve high grades and standardized test scores to meet the eligibility criteria for competitive scholarships.
  2. Participate in Extracurricular Activities: Engage in activities outside the classroom to demonstrate leadership, commitment, and diverse skills.
  3. Identify Suitable Scholarships: Research scholarships that match your academic achievements, talents, and interests. Use resources like school counselors, scholarship databases, and college financial aid websites.
  4. Prepare Application Materials: Compile all necessary documents, including transcripts, standardized test scores, letters of recommendation, essays, and portfolios if required.
  5. Write Compelling Essays: Craft essays that effectively communicate your achievements, experiences, and aspirations. Tailor each essay to the specific scholarship criteria.
  6. Meet All Deadlines: Submit your applications well before the deadlines to avoid any last-minute issues.
  7. Prepare for Interviews: If required, practice your interview skills. Be ready to discuss your achievements, goals, and how the scholarship will help you achieve them.

By carefully following these steps, you can increase your chances of securing a full-ride scholarship, significantly reducing the financial burden of college education.

Schools With Full-Ride Scholarships

Many schools, including Ivy Leagues, offer full-ride scholarships to students based on academic excellence, leadership, and other achievements. These highly selective colleges provide full-rides to attract exceptional students.

Applicants interested in these programs should research each scholarship's specific requirements and deadlines to ensure they meet all eligibility criteria and application guidelines. 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 seventh-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, 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 15th-best national university. 

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 24th-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.

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 73rd-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.

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 value of full-ride scholarships varies widely, ranging from $20,000 to $50,000 or more, primarily due to differences in university fees. The specific value of a full-ride scholarship is directly linked to the cost of education at the institution offering it, with prestigious or private universities often having scholarships on the higher end of the scale due to their higher tuition fees.

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

Seeking a full-ride scholarship to cover your college education? Below, we’ll cover the commonly asked questions to learn how to obtain this prestigious award. 

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. 

8. How Much Can a Student Get From Full-Ride Scholarships?

With the average cost of college tuition reaching up to $41,540 in the 2023-24 year, financing education can pose a significant barrier. Fortunately, a full-ride scholarship can alleviate this financial burden by covering the entire cost of your tuition and more. 

This means you won't have to fret about how to fund your education, providing a valuable opportunity to pursue your academic goals without the added stress of financial constraints.

9. What Is a Full-Ride Scholarship Worth?

The value of a full-ride scholarship all depends on the school and program you’re applying to. Some tuition prices are higher and some are less, so the more valuable scholarships apply to the schools with higher prices.

Final Thoughts

Securing a full-ride scholarship makes college affordability significantly easier, overcoming one of the most challenging aspects of college admission. The meaning of full-ride scholarships extends beyond just a financial award; they symbolize recognition of a student's academic achievements, leadership qualities, and contributions to their field of study. 

With the guidance we provided on how to secure such a scholarship, you can invest your best efforts into every application. Although the competition is fierce and acceptance rates are low, the strategies shared can elevate your status as a competitive applicant.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter
Thanks ! You're now subscribed!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Get A Free Consultation

Speak to a college admissions expert about how we can help you get into your dream school
Schedule a Call

You May Also Like

Before you go, here are a few facts about us!
The Quad Factor: Working with us can increase your chances of admission by 11x!

The Best of the Best: Our team comprises of only 99th percentile tutors and admissions counselors from top-ranking universities, meaning you work with only the most experienced, talented experts.

The Free Consultation: Our experts would love to get to know you, your background, goals, and needs. From there, they match you with a best-fit consultant who will create a detailed project plan and application strategy focused on your success.