How To Get a Full-Ride Scholarship That Covers All College Expenses

Because college is expensive!

One hundred dollar bills and graduation cap with quote about how to get a full ride scholarship, "Students who earn a full ride scholarship won’t have to worry about anything other and focusing on their studies."

Paying for college can be a challenge. It’s important for students to explore every possible way to finance their higher education. Student loans are a popular option, but it’s hard to graduate under a mountain of debt. There are many different types of grants and scholarships, but the amount of the award varies. They may help offset costs, but they may not cover much. This article will explain how to get a full-ride scholarship, a rare type of financial award that changes the lives of the lucky few who are chosen. 

What is a full-ride scholarship?

Based on the name, many students can guess what “full-ride scholarship” means, but it might sound too good to be true. The reality is that their guess was probably right! Full-ride scholarships are a type of financial award that covers all of a student’s college expenses. That means students won’t have to worry about the high cost of tuition and books. Incredible, right?

Not only that, full-ride scholarships are intended to offset the full cost of attendance. What this means is that these funds will cover student fees, meals, and housing. Students who earn full-ride scholarships won’t have to worry about anything other than focusing on their studies. 

It doesn’t end there. Some awards include additional perks such as living expenses, leadership and study-abroad programs, and even a new laptop!

How much is a full-ride scholarship?

The award students receive from a full-ride scholarship really depends on the school’s costs. There is no set amount. It’s important to make the distinction, however, between a full-ride scholarship and a full-tuition scholarship. 


A full-tuition scholarship usually covers educational costs such as tuition, fees, and books. A full-ride scholarship also helps with room and board and sometimes other expenses like travel and living expenses. 

Are there different types of full-ride scholarships?

Yes, there are different types of full-ride scholarships. How students qualify depends on their skills, expertise, and background. While many of the students who earn these awards gain recognition for their academic performance, merit, athletic abilities, and/or leadership, these are not the only paths to a full-ride scholarship. 

  • Merit-based: To qualify for a merit-based full-ride scholarship, students must demonstrate exceptional academic performance usually through GPA, SAT, and ACT scores. 
  • Prestige: Students who have been committed to service or leadership or otherwise show great promise may receive one of these awards. 
  • Athletic: These scholarships are reserved for students who excel at football, basketball, gymnastics, volleyball, and tennis. 
  • Financial need: Students from lower-income households and/or those who qualify for prestige and merit awards may be selected for these awards.
  • State-sponsored: While these vary by state, there are state programs that will cover college expenses, usually at designated public universities.
  • Government: A variety of full-ride government scholarships are available to students, most often for Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) students and those who plan to attend a military academy. 
  • Other paths: Most students are eligible for some type of full-ride scholarship, so they should do their research! Awards are available at specific colleges, foundations/companies, or based on many factors including legacy and heritage. 

Who gets full-ride scholarships?

As you can imagine, a lot of students hope to receive a full-ride scholarship, but how common are they? Different articles report different numbers, but the general consensus is that fewer than 1% of students earn one. 

Full-ride scholarships are competitive (even transfer students from community or two-year colleges may qualify). Students shouldn’t take it personally if they aren’t chosen. They should just secure backup funding, put their best foot forward, and hope for the best!

Where can students find full-ride scholarships?

There are a number of websites out there where you can perform a simple search to find full-ride scholarships and other awards. These sites often publish articles every year to offer guidance and tips, like this one about the Top Full-Ride Scholarships for High School Students or this list of 80 Colleges With Full-Ride Scholarships. 

Interested in specific schools or workplaces (like Microsoft!)? Check to see if they offer this type of financial support to students. These are some popular full-ride scholarships to help get started. 

  • Microsoft Tuition Scholarship: For currently enrolled undergraduate students studying computer engineering, computer science, and/or related STEM disciplines. Apply for the Microsoft Tuition Scholarship.
  • Jack Kent Cooke Foundation College Scholarship: This scholarship is for high-achieving high school seniors who want to attend top universities and who demonstrate financial need. It awards up to $55,000 per year over four years to cover the cost of tuition, living expenses, books, and fees. Apply for the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation College Scholarship. 
  • Army ROTC Scholarships: This full-ride scholarship is for U.S. citizens between the ages of 17 and 26 who agree to serve with the Army for eight years. Apply for Army ROTC Scholarships. 
  • USDA/1890 National Scholars Program: For students attending historically black land-grant universities who plan to study agriculture or related fields. Apply for the USDA/1890 National Scholars Program.

How can students win a full-ride scholarship?

Just like with most scholarships, students should do everything they can to stand out. Of course, they can’t forget about the basics. The first thing to do is confirm eligibility, the application deadline, and the materials needed to apply. Carefully read the rules to make sure nothing important is missed! 

  • Plan ahead. Students should start doing research as soon as they start high school. If they start participating in leadership or community service as a freshman, for example, their level of commitment and experience will be much more impressive than if they just started in their senior year. 
  • Keep grades up. Students should demonstrate academic excellence. Yes, they want to do well on their SAT/ACT scores and have a great GPA, but also take challenging courses to make themselves even more competitive.
  • Be a leader. Scholarship committees want to invest in the leaders of tomorrow, so while students are in high school, they should seek out opportunities to gain strong leadership skills. 
  • Get involved. Students should roll up their sleeves and volunteer for community service. They shouldn’t  pass up a chance to give back and pay it forward. They’ll be helping those around them while gaining valuable experience.
  • Build relationships with mentors. Students should look for people they trust for academic, personal, and professional advice. Not only can they help navigate high school, but they may nominate students for a full-ride scholarship or write a letter of recommendation. 
  • Find strengths. Students should lean into activities that help cultivate what makes them unique. Let their special interests and talents shine!  
  • Submit a great scholarship application. It’s not enough to follow all of the steps in the scholarship application process: Students also need to impress the review committee. They should write an incredible scholarship essay, have killer reference letters, and proofread the application meticulously. Good luck, students!

Do you have tips for how to get a full-ride scholarship? Share them below!

Want more suggestions? Check out The Ultimate Guide to College Scholarships!

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How To Get a Full-Ride Scholarship That Covers All College Expenses