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Home Scholarships College Scholarships How to Get a Full Ride Scholarship

How to Get a Full Ride Scholarship

The financial responsibility of continuing your education at a college, university, or trade school can be daunting. There can be a lot of costs that can make anyone question spending such a large amount of money. However, keep in mind that this money being spent is an investment in YOU.

Anything worth doing is going to take some time, effort, and more than likely money. The good news is that there are a lot of people rooting for you and financial support is available for those that look for it.

The rare but attainable full ride scholarship can answer the question “how am I going to pay for college?” So what does a full ride scholarship mean and how do you receive one?

What is a Full Ride Scholarship?

The beauty of a full ride scholarship is that it covers many costs associated with attending college. This means not only are your tuition costs covered, but other expenses needed to go to school can be taken care of as well, such as room and board, a meal/food plan, and student fees. Some full ride scholarships will also include technology purchases, specific personal expenses, and study abroad opportunities.

While a full ride offer is ideal, there are also full tuition scholarships which are nearly as desirable as they cover the full cost of tuition. Both full ride scholarships and full tuition scholarships will offset the overall cost of college greatly and can help keep student loan debt to a minimum. Check out the School Snapshot tool to get an idea of how much your school will cost to attend, as well as compare different schools.

Who Gets Full Ride Scholarships?

Anyone can be eligible for a full ride scholarship. Award decisions generally depend on your background, academic or athletic ability, community involvement, and leadership skills. High school students can begin applying for scholarships whenever they feel they are ready, although most begin applying for scholarships as high school juniors and seniors.

Types of Full Ride Scholarships

Full ride scholarships are offered for lots of different reasons and by a variety of different groups based on their specific requirements and need. The federal government and private organizations award full ride scholarships to deserving students.

1.     Merit Based Scholarships

When students initially think about full ride scholarships, merit based scholarships most often come to mind. These scholarships are based on a student’s academic achievement or impressive extra-curricular activities. Full ride, merit scholarship committees are looking for students who embrace their uniqueness and the power within themselves to inspire others and create a positive impact on the world. Check your university scholarship page for more insights on particular merit scholarships given out by your school.

2.      Need-Based Scholarships

Students from lower income homes may be offered full ride scholarships based on demonstrated financial need. This process usually begins by filling out the Free Application for Financial Student Aid (FAFSA). Scholarship committees decide the level of financial need, but for most full ride scholarships financial need eligibility is limited to families with a combined annual income of $35,000 or less. While you complete the FAFSA to apply for some of these scholarships, these scholarships are not part of the federal student aid program. The federal student aid program only offers grants up to $6,495

3.     Athletic Scholarships

Prominent athletic programs may have the funds to offer full ride scholarships to student athletes based on athletic excellence in a specific sport. If you are outstanding in a given sport and think you might qualify for an athletic scholarship, check with the athletic program staff at schools you are considering attending to understand what financial aid opportunities they can offer you. 

Keep in mind, if you don’t qualify for a full ride scholarship, that doesn’t mean that a school won’t offer a partial scholarship. These partial scholarships can help reduce the costs of college, and with a combination of grants and other financial aid, make a school affordable. For example, instead of attending a Division 1 school, you may be able to play and be offered a partial scholarship at a Division 2 school. Some junior colleges even offer sports scholarships and make earning a few years of credits or an associate degree more affordable. 

You also don’t want to rule yourself out just because you don’t play football or basketball. Many colleges offer partial scholarships to athletes who are competitive in less popular (and often underrated) sports, like bowling, fencing, golf, esports, etc.

4.     Prestige Scholarships

Prestige scholarships require highly competitive standards for applicants, and reward students who have demonstrated excellence as a leader, upstanding service to their community, or impressive intellectual merit based on grades or standardized test scores. Winning one of these national or international awards can be more than just a financial award, it can open the door to exclusive opportunities down the road. These scholarships typically require nomination and may not accept applications directly from students. 

Prestige scholarships may be available from many sources, including the government. For example, the Presidential Scholarship is a well-known full ride government scholarship. This scholarship is considered prestigious and is awarded to students in one of three tracks, general academics, arts, or career and technical education.

Do Scholarships Expire?

When it comes to the coveted full ride scholarship, it will cover tuition and living expenses for four years, as long as you maintain the requirements provided by the entity awarding the scholarship. 

Each scholarship is different, so make sure to read the fine print. Most scholarships are renewable each school year based on performance from the last school year. This means that if you want to keep your full ride scholarship, you will need to maintain your GPA at an acceptable level as well as any other requirements specific to your scholarship.

Planning Out a Full Ride Scholarship Application

Once you have found the perfect full ride scholarship to apply for, there is no guarantee that you will receive it. You can however do everything within your control to ensure you put your best foot forward by showcasing your skills, talents, and ability. The following tips and tricks can help you be a top candidate. 

1.     Plan Early

When you decide to apply for a full ride scholarship, begin planning out your application as early as possible. Scholarships are not just for high school seniors. Students dedicated to receiving and planning out a stellar full-ride scholarship application may begin looking at scholarships as early as their freshman year. Most students begin researching scholarships the summer between their junior and senior years in high school. Remember, scholarship committees are looking for devotion, commitment, and persistence in you and your scholarship application. 

If your intent is to begin school in the fall, many scholarship deadlines fall between August and December to ensure your funds are disbursed to you by the late summer or early fall. October seems to be a popular month for scholarship deadlines, so plan your time wisely. 

2.     Maintain Academic Excellence

Full ride scholarship committees are looking for the best, most worthy, and deserving candidates, and that means excelling in school. Top marks across the board will give you the best results. Check the average GPA and SAT/ACT scores for your schools of choice. Armed with that knowledge, you can be the kind of candidate your school is looking for. 

Look at your class schedule and figure out where you need help and don’t be afraid to ask for extra assistance. Study and receive high SAT or ACT scores. Your perseverance and dedication will pay off and you may find the challenge a worthy experience.

3.     Become an Active Leader

Seek out opportunities that will allow you to grow and develop your character as a person and a leader. Participate in the classroom and support your peers and friends in whatever ways you can. Be willing to lead projects and learn to voice your opinion. Follow through with your commitments and create a reputation of being a leader. 

Overcoming difficulties and hardships can mold your character and be useful to share as learning experiences in your scholarship essays.

4.   Involve Yourself in Your Community

Scholarship committees aren’t just looking for good students. They want to award students who embody the values of the organization and will be an asset to the community both now and in the future. As you are looking for a full ride scholarship, look at the core values and beliefs of the donor. Apply for scholarships from organizations that resonate with your own core values and beliefs. Demonstrating sincerity and a genuine attitude that align your values with theirs will go a long way.  

Find a cause that is important to you and consistently devote time to its mission and purpose. (Ideally, this would be a service opportunity you can participate in on a weekly basis or a few times a month.)

5.   Build Mentor Relationships

As you continue reaching for your many goals, work to build relationships with trusted adults who can help and mentor you along your path. Mentors can offer valuable academic, personal, and professional advice that you may not be able to get from others. The strong and lasting relationship you build will enable your mentor to help you. 

When the time comes, your mentor will also be able to write glowing letters of recommendation. These letters can be used as a deciding factor when scholarship committees are deciding between multiple worthy applicants.

Scholarship Funds Distribution

Depending on the full ride scholarship you apply for, the funds may be sent directly to the school to apply to your tuition, deposited to your school account, or you may receive the funds in the form of a check or direct deposit to your personal bank account. Each scholarship is different. Check the terms of the scholarship or contact the group directly.

Tell your school about all scholarships you win so they can be accurately listed in your financial aid letters. Review these letters carefully so you know exactly how much money you are receiving and can determine if you have enough to pay for school or if you will need to take out student loans to cover any gaps.

Unused Scholarship Funds

If you are fortunate enough to end up receiving more scholarship money than the total cost of attending school, your school may send you what is known as a credit refund, credit balance refund, school refund, or financial aid refund (depending on what terminology your school uses) of the left-over scholarship money. This is money that you may have to pay taxes on. Ask your financial aid office to help you calculate the part of your scholarship that may be taxable.

Once again, any extra money can be used to help pay for educational expenses that your school deems necessary. This could be books, lab fees, housing, laptops, and other expenses.

Didn’t Receive a Full Ride Scholarship?

Ultimately, you cannot be assured whether or not you will be awarded a full ride scholarship. There are still ways to make the financial burden of college manageable, even if you are unable to receive a full ride scholarship.

You should apply to as many scholarship programs as you can, since there is no limit on how much money you can be awarded. It is possible to be awarded enough scholarship money to equate to a full ride scholarship. Ultimately, this is money that doesn’t have to come out of your pocket, so it is worth the effort of applying.

With the help of free tools, you can help find and receive scholarships to make the financial burden of college manageable. At StudentScholarshipSearch, you can find and be matched with scholarships that match you, your abilities, and interests. For no-essay scholarship drawings, check out for monthly $1,000 scholarships and $10,000 scholarship drawings four times a year. Though you may not receive the coveted full ride scholarship, there are plenty of smaller scholarships that can add up to alleviate the costs of college.


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