How to Get a Full-Ride Scholarship

Curious about Full-Ride Scholarships?

Written by Jason

It is simple: I envisioned Campus to Career Crossroads helping students have successful outcomes, dreamed up by the students themselves. Our mission at Campus to Career Crossroads is to develop a supportive and individualized partnership with you and your family to help you navigate the complex stages from high school and throughout your career. Let's work together!

Last updated Apr 15, 2024 | Published on May 30, 2023

Whether you are a student in high school or a parent, you may wonder, “Where are all the colleges that offer free rides?” 

First, it is important to note colleges that provide full-ride scholarships have been a shrinking pool for many years. Not all schools offer full-ride scholarships, and yes, it can be very difficult to find them. However, those who get them discover that it can be a huge relief for families to cover the total cost of education.

Colleges across the country are facing tighter budgets and have been trying to utilize financial aid puzzle pieces to offset the full-ride scholarship opportunity. The percentage of first-time, full-time degree/certificate-seeking undergraduate students awarded financial aid increased from 85% to 87% between academic years 2009 and 2020 among four-year institutions, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. 

We will walk through the full-ride scholarship meaning, how to get a full-ride scholarship, and where to find them. By the time you finish reading, you will better understand what you can do to find and receive a full-ride scholarship. Read on for more information.

What is a Full-Ride Scholarship?

What is a full-ride scholarship, exactly? Great question! You may be surprised that the full-ride scholarship meaning may be different than you realized. 

A full-ride scholarship is what you might assume — it is a scholarship that covers all your college expenses. A full-ride scholarship does not cover tuition; it covers other costs such as: 

  • Room and board (housing and meals)
  • Textbooks 
  • Other fees, such as laboratory fees and campus activity fees

Full-Ride Scholarships Are a Rare Way to Pay for All of Your College Costs

The amount you can get for a full-ride scholarship depends on the cost of the college you plan to attend. For example, if the college costs $60,000.00 for tuition, room, board and other fees, the full-ride scholarship would amount to the full $60,000.00.

Does that mean you are guaranteed to continue receiving scholarships from colleges that offer full rides? 

Not at all — you may have to maintain your grade point average based on the college’s or university’s requirements.

How Common Are Full-Ride Scholarships?

Unfortunately, most students will find it extremely difficult to secure a full-ride scholarship — they are that rare and highly competitive. Many people assume that high-cost colleges will offer a full-ride scholarship — that is their answer to bailing you out of high-cost colleges — and unfortunately, that is not the case. 

Another thing to know: People also assume that “full tuition” means the same as “full-ride,” but it does not. Full-tuition scholarships refer to scholarships that take care of the cost of tuition alone — they do not include room, board, and other fees. 

How to Apply for Full-Ride Scholarships 

How do you get a full-ride scholarship? What are the steps to apply for a full-ride scholarship? Let’s take a look at all the different steps. 

Always Research All of the Scholarship Requirements When Applying

Step 1: Make a list.

What kind of list does this mean? It means creating a list of ways you would be able to apply for a full-ride. In other words, what would qualify you for a full-ride? Do you have something that naturally rises to the top as a special skill? You might already have an idea of an area where you believe you excel, such as academics, athletics, leadership, or another type of skill that you have. 

In other words, what do you have in you that nobody else can bring to the table? What makes you unique? You know what it is — capitalize on it and keep building on it.

Step 2: Start your research. 

Regarding athletic scholarships, it might be easy to start your research because coaches may come to you. College coaches may have a specific need for their team and what they want in an athlete. 

Full-ride scholarships for other qualifications can be less cut-and-dried than athletic scholarships. For example, to seek a highly coveted full-ride scholarship, you may have to do more than play well — you will have to audition. 

Look at the requirements. For example, a music school may require a music major to play a virtuoso concert etude on the piano, a classical sonata, romantic work, etc.    

On the other hand, many students receive full-ride scholarships based on merit, which means it is based on merit — academics. You need to show evidence of true excellence in one area, and as you can see, research varies widely depending on the type of full-ride scholarship you will get, and preparation may be required years in advance. 

Step 3: Carefully apply. 

Whatever the type of scholarship, the requirements could be vastly different. Therefore, it is essential to take your time during the application process. In short, you need to nail the application process. This means you do everything you can to perfect the process, whether it involves an application, audition tape, or something else entirely.

Your application may require completed written materials, which may require you to outline many things, including but not limited to naming your experiences and accomplishments, why you got involved in your activity, the obstacles you’ve faced, what you’ve learned, your goals for the future and more. Ask others to read through your application so you can put your best foot forward.

Example of a Full-Ride Scholarship

Let’s review an example of a university offering a full-ride scholarship. Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania offers a virtual scholarship contest, and up to eight students earn full-tuition scholarships. (Note that Gannon University has 3,289 undergraduate students.)

Students must also submit a leadership/involvement résumé, a writing prompt, creative work, and a virtual interview session.

Accepted students who meet the academic requirements can qualify for the invitation-only event. Students must enroll as full-time undergraduates at Gannon University upon graduation, meet the full-time, regular admission requirements, and qualify as citizens of the United States. Students must also keep a 3.25 grade point average during their tenure at Gannon.

Double Check All Requirements When Submitting Scholarship Applications

  • Leadership/involvement résumé: Students must submit a résumé of leadership roles and activities at organizations. 
  • Writing component: Students will submit a personal statement, such as choosing one person/thing/book/life event that has influenced their life. 
  • Creative piece: Prepare and submit an original piece that addresses a prompt, such as personal goals and passion for your intended field and how Gannon will help you get there, and the answer to the question, “Who are you and what will you bring to the Gannon community?”
  • Virtual interviews: Students must interview virtually with a panel of judges, who will ask questions to get to know you. 

Various Types of Full-Ride Scholarships

What are the different types of full-ride scholarships, exactly? Let’s take a look. 

  • Excellence: Students can often get full-ride scholarships for many excellent qualities, including leadership. You can qualify for full-ride scholarships if you show extensive leadership skills in clubs and organizations.
  • Athletic: As we already mentioned, you can get athletic scholarships, but these commonly come from certain Division I or Division II schools for specific sports — football, basketball, volleyball, gymnastics, and tennis. 
  • Government programs: Some government programs will offer scholarships based on high grades and SAT/ACT scores, sometimes a combination of all three opportunities. 
  • Need: Students who have high financial need may get a full-ride scholarship.   
  • Other qualifications: Students may get full-ride scholarships for other qualifications, such as if you are a legacy student — someone whose family members attended a particular institution. 

If those sound like they fit your qualifications and talents, you are taking a practical step in the process — identifying the right scholarship opportunities for you.

Where to Find Full-Ride Scholarships

Where can you find scholarships? It is a great question because it can seem like finding a needle in a haystack. How are you supposed to know that a university across the country offers the exact scholarship in the major you are considering? If you are simply not aware of it, how will you know?

It is a great question, because even the best research might cause you to feel as if you have not done complete research. Here are some suggestions: 

  • Talk to professional organizations: Does your very well-connected music teacher belong to a professional organization that lists college and university scholarships? Does another connection know about your stellar leadership skills and graduated from an institution where that individual got his full-ride scholarship?
  • Attend college fairs: College fairs offer a great opportunity to talk to many colleges and universities about their scholarship options. The National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC) maintains a list of college fairs at locations throughout the United States. NACAC holds both virtual and in-person college fairs year-round in major U.S. cities. College fairs offer a great opportunity to learn about the highest-dollar scholarships colleges and universities offer. 
  • Hire an independent educational consultant: An independent educational consultant can help you quickly sift through all your full-ride scholarship options. At Campus to Career Crossroads, we help you find your ideal fit based on educational goals, scholarship opportunities, and the other criteria on your list. Though not many full-ride scholarships exist in most colleges and universities, our experts can help you identify exactly how to find those diamonds.  

Tips for Getting Scholarships

As you probably already know, scholarship searching and getting any scholarship is not for the faint of heart, especially when pursuing full-ride scholarships.

Let Campus to Career Crossroads Help You Search for Scholarships

Hone Your Skills

Honing your skills means getting as good as possible at the activity or skill for which you plan to get a full-ride scholarship. For example, suppose you plan to get a Division I full-ride scholarship to play basketball. In that case, you want to get as good as possible at basketball, play on a stellar AAU team, go to every league and summer camp, create an excellent highlight video, eliminate weaknesses, and build your strengths. 

You have got to stand out no matter which direction you choose to go — only about 50,000 of the hundreds of thousands of students who play high school basketball (both internationally and domestically) get a basketball scholarship in college. 

Start the Process Early

You cannot start the second semester of your senior year looking for full-ride scholarships. For example, this year, the Gannon University virtual interviews occur on Saturday, February 11, 2023, and the résumé, essay, and creative pieces are accepted between January 2 and February 3, 2023. 

Before that, you still have to get accepted to the university, which means submitting your application, transcripts, and other required pieces for admission to the college or university.

Build Your Network

Do as much as possible to build your network. Everyone you meet can lead you that much closer to a goal of a full-ride scholarship. For example, talking to the right individual at a college fair could open the door. Playing for a particular coach on an AAU team could also do the same. Meanwhile, talking to the right golfing buddy at your dad’s company could also open doors! 

The point is, you do not know who might help you build your network. Whatever the case, do the most you can to meet as many people as you can, particularly experts in the area or field you plan to pursue. 

Put a Strategy into Place

Similar to writing down your daily schedule and plan for your week, putting a full strategy in place as to how you’ll handle your years leading up to college enrollment. That is where the opportunity to work with an independent educational consultant comes in. Campus to Career Crossroads helps you plan out your senior year (and junior year, for that matter!) to help you meet deadlines and ensure that you complete every piece of the puzzle — we know you are busy! We ensure that you stay on track. 

Consider Other College Costs

It is important to recognize that there are other college costs to keep in mind as well, including off-campus housing or rent (the college may not pay you to live off campus), food (if living on campus), transportation to and from home, which could include flights back and forth. You will also have to add entertainment to the list and fees like sorority or fraternity fees. 

Can You Get a Full-Ride Scholarship? 

Getting these highly coveted full-ride scholarships is difficult, if not what you feel is darn near impossible. However, colleges and universities offer them, and it is worth looking into them to cover college costs. 

Always Apply for Scholarship Opportunities

Contact Campus to Career Crossroads to learn more about how to get full-ride scholarships.


Still have questions? Let’s look at a few frequently asked questions about full-ride scholarships. 

Is it rare to get a full-ride scholarship?

Yes, it is rare to get full-ride scholarships. Most colleges, however, offer merit scholarships based on grades and possibly ACT/SAT scores. However, these may not be near a full-ride scholarship, while others may get fairly close. The University of Alabama does an excellent job of providing scholarships levels for in-state and out-of-state students on their website.

University of Alabama's Out-of-State Freshman Scholarship Ranges Chart

What ACT score is needed to get a full-ride scholarship?

There is no one ACT or SAT score that rings the bell to get a full-ride scholarship. It depends on many factors, including the type of full-ride scholarship you plan to get. Ask the college or university you are interested in for more information about the requirements to get a full-ride scholarship (if they are an available option).

How competitive are full-ride scholarships?

Full-ride scholarships are competitive due to the amount of money on the table. Most students who compete for a full-ride scholarship will not get it, so it is essential to have a plan to pay for college. Contact Campus to Career Crossroads for more information about creating a plan for your situation. 

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