college,  high school,  scholarship

Student’s Guide to a Full Ride Scholarship

“How am I going to pay for college?”

After a long and sometimes grueling application process, being accepted to college may feel as good as it gets—but sometimes it gets even better – Scholarship !

One of the first questions people often ask when they’re accepted is “how will I pay for this?”. Colleges and universities often offer a wide variety of financial aid packages that make what seemed impossible possible. But there’s another way to have many of your college expenses taken care of as a reward for your natural abilities, intelligence, talent, or skill: a full ride scholarship.

When a school thinks a student is special, they’re energized to do what they can to get the student to enroll. Offering full ride scholarships is the school’s way of telling a student that they want to be partners in education for the next four years, and to make it really hard for a student to say “no.”

Each year, less than one percent of students attending college will be awarded the incredibly rare full ride scholarship. The goal is to reward worthy students while alleviating any need for financial aid. That means your university or college usually covers not only your tuition, but also your room and board, textbooks, and other expenses. Depending on a student’s background, talents, expertise, heritage, and other distinguishing factors, any student is eligible to earn a full ride.

Students can earn full ride scholarships in categories including:

  • Excellence in leadership or service
  • Athletic dominance
  • State-given
  • Offered by the government
  • Academic excellence
  • Financial need

If you meet a set of designated set of criteria, many schools offer full ride scholarships to impressive students with the idea that they will attract other equally impressive students to their campuses. There are merit-based full ride scholarships which are largely earned in your high school classes and with your strength of schedule. When it comes to scholarship worthiness, taking tough classes and being an active part of the community are typically weighed more heavily than simply earning straight As.

Going about getting a scholarship

If you’re at the top of your high school class, have high test scores, show strength in positions of leadership, and display commendable character, the college or university you’re applying to will see the potential of you doing the same when you arrive at college. Applications for these scholarships will likely require letters of recommendation and written essays, which will also put both your character and your intelligence on display. Knowing how motivated you are to achieve academic success will make your college want to retain you and reward you for your hard work and academic prowess.

Another skill that can earn students a full ride is excellence in certain areas outside of the classroom—including athletics or the arts. Are you able to set yourself apart from the pack on the field or on the stage, your talents may earn your college tuition. However the hunt for a full ride scholarship may be overwhelming. If you want to narrow your scope, here are some tips for finding scholarship opportunities best for you:

  • Your heritage can lead to full ride scholarships. Do you know yours?
  • Only six full ride scholarships are offered in D1 schools, but private institutions often have a wider variety.
  • The more applications you complete, the stronger they’ll be. Keep applying!
  • Find your niche. You may have to get creative, but there’s something out there for everyone.
  • It can’t hurt to apply, everyone has a chance. Apply, apply, apply!
  • They’re not just for high school seniors! Transfer students already in college can also land full rides.


While you should “apply, apply, apply,” you should do so thoughtfully. Take a look at your strengths and interests and find opportunities that highlight them to best position yourself for success. If you cater your “to apply” list to your areas of interest, your intended major, your high school strengths, or other qualities specific to you, the chance of winning scholarship will be higher.

Full Ride Scholarships

Ready to apply? Below, we’ve compiled a list some of the best scholarships out there to help you get started. But remember, you should shop for scholarships that are the best fit for you—not just the best.

  • Gates Millennium Scholarship. The Gates Millennium Scholars program awards 1,000 scholarships to use at any university or college of a student’s choice.
  • Chick Evans Caddie Scholarship. A full tuition and housing college scholarship for golf caddies that is renewable for up to four years and awarded to 800 students.
  • JPMorgan: Thomas G. Labrecque Smart Start Program. The Smart Start Scholarship provides full tuition, a paid internship at JPMorgan Chase, and a stipend of $750 for expenses for 10 undergraduate students every year.
  • Jack Kent Cooke Foundation College Scholarship. Available to high-achieving high school seniors with financial need. Awards 30-40 students with up to $40,000 per year to cover the cost of tuition, living expenses, books, and fees.
  • Microsoft Tuition Scholarship. This program offers tuition scholarships for undergraduate students studying computer science, computer engineering, and related STEM disciplines and who have at least a 3.0/4.0 GPA.
  • USDA/1890 National Scholars Program. Provides full tuition, fees, books, a laptop, a printer, software, room and board, and employment with the USDA during the summer and after graduation along with employee benefits.
  • Regeneron Science Talent Search. A national contest that allows the most promising young scientists and mathematicians to conduct long-term original research projects and compete to win up to $250,000
  • Flinn Foundation Scholarships. Awarded to 20 of Arizona’s highest-achieving seniors planning to study at an Arizona public university (including Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, and the University of Arizona).
  • Army ROTC Scholarships. Offered to high school seniors and college students, sometimes including the full cost of tuition, room and board, books and fees, and a monthly stipend.
  • Air Force ROTC Scholarships. Offered to high school seniors and college students, sometimes including the full cost of tuition, lab and textbook fees, and a monthly stipend.
  • Navy ROTC Scholarships. Offered to high school seniors and college students, some cover the full cost of tuition and fees, $750 per year for books, uniforms, and three summer cruises, and between $250 and $400 per month for living expenses.
  • SMART: Science, Mathematics & Research for Transformation. Encourages STEM students to work in national defense. Students who win this scholarship will receive coverage for full tuition and fees, summer research internships, health insurance, mentoring, stipends of $25,000-38,000 per year, and employment placement after graduation.

In review:

  • Full ride scholarships are granted to exceptional students to cover the cost of college
  • Schools offer full ride scholarships to students that they want to bring into the student body
  • You can be considered worthy of a full ride by showing academic excellence, leadership strength, athletic prowess, mastery of a skill or talent, certain backgrounds, and more
  • There are many scholarships catered to specific interest groups, and finding your best match is a key to success
  • There is no limit to how many scholarships you can apply for!

If you put time and care into applying for full ride scholarships and still don’t earn one, there are plenty of scholarships that will cover at least some portion of your enrollment expenses. The suggestion to “apply, apply, apply” holds true for anyone trying to earn a scholarship in any amount.

Combination of scholarships you earn may result in you having to pay next to nothing for tuition. You can fill out as many applications as you can get your hands on—there is no limit. If you’re granted more than one, the combination of multiple scholarships may add up to close to a full ride!

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