How to Get a Full Ride Scholarship: Expert Tips for Success

Last updated on - July 3, 2023

How to Get a Full Ride Scholarship: Expert Tips for Success

Securing a full-ride scholarship is the ultimate goal for many parents and students looking to reduce college costs. In this article, we will explore various tips and resources to help you figure out the competitive world of scholarships – specifically, full-ride scholarships.

Full-ride scholarships can be need-based or merit-based. Most students receive full-ride scholarships based on exceptional talent, academic or athletic prowess. Financial need is also another factor often considered by some scholarship providers. Colleges will award these scholarships to lure the best and the brightest to their campus. Still, they may have other reasons for awarding them too. Corporations, non-profit organizations, and state and federal governments also award these types of scholarships.

We'll discuss the differences between full-ride and full-tuition scholarships and highlight some of the top full-ride examples. We will also delve into developing qualities essential for scholarship success, such as academic achievements and community involvement.

What is a Full Ride Scholarship?

Want to attend college without worrying about the financial burden? Look no further than full-ride scholarships that is basically money you win to cover all college expenses.

This type of scholarship is like the Holy Grail of college. With a full-ride scholarship, you can achieve the crown jewels of an education without the hefty price tag. It covers your tuition, room & board, fees, and in some cases, books.

A full-ride scholarship is an award that covers the cost of attendance for a specific college or university. In other words, it is a type of scholarship that covers your tuition, room & board, fees, and in some cases, books.

If you do really well academically, athletically, in the creative or performing arts, or offer up another talent (merit based scholarship), you could get a full-ride scholarship! Sometimes scholarships are awarded based on your family's financial situation (need-based scholarship).  

Full-Tuition Scholarships vs. Full-Ride Scholarships

You should know that there is another kind of scholarship called a "full-tuition" scholarship. It will only pay for tuition, not expenses like room, board, living, or travel. It is different from the full-ride scholarship which has more advantages.

full-ride scholarship covers all college expenses, including tuition, housing, meals, books, lab fees, and sometimes even living costs.

On the other hand, a full-tuition scholarship only pays for tuition at a specific school. It does not cover additional expenses such as housing or meal plans.

Both types can significantly reduce college costs; however, it's essential to understand these distinctions when researching financial aid opportunities.

How do You Win a Full Ride Scholarship: 10 Expert Tips

When considering full-ride scholarships, think of two words: "highly competitive." These babies are rare too. Some estimates suggest less than 2% of students receive one. 

If you want to win a scholarship that covers all the costs for college, you need to start preparing early. It's like getting into a top college or program in the US. To get a full-ride scholarship, you have to give it your best shot.

Every scholarship will have its own criteria, requirements, and application form. For the ones available through colleges, you may or may not have to complete a separate application when you apply to the college. In some cases, if you become a finalist, you will need to attend an interview

You need to do two things to make yourself a strong applicant. First, you should dedicate the time and effort to getting good grades and getting involved in an after-school activity. This can help you discover and build a talent. Second, make sure to create an application that really shows off your best qualities. If you have to do an interview, practice a lot.

Expert tips to increase your chances of winning a full-ride scholarship

1. Maintain Good Grades

To become eligible for most full-ride scholarships, you must keep your grades up. There are a variety of scholarships that require students to maintain a certain GPA or class rank. You should also ensure you are taking some honors and/or AP classes if your school offers them. Taking some college-level classes can stretch you academically and also make you more competitive.

2. Study Hard

This one may sound counterintuitive, but the truth is studying hard will give you a better chance of success. Whether trying to ace a class or prepare for entrance examinations, proper study habits can make a huge difference in your results. The higher your grades in a course, the better your chances of getting a full-ride scholarship. 

3. Practice for the ACT or SAT

Practicing SAT and ACT tests can help identify and fill learning gaps and can help to raise your scores. These practice tests can also help you develop strong test-taking strategies. By taking full-length practice tests and reviewing the answers and explanations, you can become familiar with the content tested and attend to any areas of weakness. Additionally, taking practice tests can help you become comfortable with the test itself and build your confidence when taking the real exam.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many colleges and private organizations no longer require an ACT or SAT test score with your application. Even if it is optional, it is important to research each school's requirements. You should take the test to see how well you score. If the score is good and the school has made it optional to submit, sending it in with your application would be smart. But if you don't think your scores will help you win a scholarship, it's probably best to not include that score with your application.

Investing time to prepare for the test will pay dividends. You can attend in-person classes or check out these free resources online. Khan Academy offers free SAT prep, and the makers of ACT offer free test prep.

4. Participate in Extracurricular Activities 

Young woman volunteering in park.

Want to boost your chance of getting a full-ride scholarship? Get involved in extracurricular activities like student government, Model UN, speech and debate club, or volunteering. To make yourself stand out, consider doing something more, like launching an initiative at your school, starting a tutoring business, writing a book, or starting a blog.

Aim high by taking leadership positions in the clubs in which you participate. College and scholarship committees like to pick people already having impact in their community. If you have to work, why not get a job related to your field of study?

Remember, strive to do less but more. It's better to be involved in the same activity over several years than have different after-school clubs each year.

5. Research Scholarships Early 

Researching scholarships early is essential when applying for a full-ride scholarship. This way you'll have enough  time to write a more thoughtful essay and request your transcript and Letters of Recommendation well before the deadline. Remember, senior year is not just busy for you but also for your teachers and counselors too. 

RELATED: 7 Reasons Your Scholarship Essay Sucks

Furthermore, researching scholarships early allows you to compare different scholarships and choose the ones where you have a good chance of winning.

In many cases, your best chance of a full-ride scholarship may come through the college you are applying to. So starting early will allow you to build a balanced college list with colleges where you have a good chance of getting in.

6. Compete in academic events 

Show your dedication to subjects like Math or foreign languages like French or Chinese by competing in nationwide and global contests.

Olympiads are available in a ton of fields, including Math, Science, and many languages. You can also try national speech and debate tournaments. If you participate at a high level, it will make you stand out when applying for college or for scholarships. It doesn't matter if you're trying to win in Math Olympiads or a national art competition—you have the chance to be noticed!

RELATED: College Admissions Guide

7. Seek out Research Opportunities

Another way to stand out as an applicant is to seek research opportunities. If you are STEM inclined, seek research opportunities at your local university or research hospital. Talk to your science teacher to see what might be available. These programs are often held in the summer. UTSouthwestern Medical Center, for example, offers an 8-week non-residential research opportunity for high school juniors and seniors. Students get to join their teacher and faculty in biomedical research and get to present their research at the end of the program. Students receive a stipend. 

The University of Michigan offers internships for high school students through The Aspirnaut Summer Research Internship Program. Seeking out programs like this will allow you to demonstrate your academic prowess and put you at the top of the pack for scholarships. Students work with a team of researchers in life science and learn to conduct their own research, and present findings at the end of the program.

8. Target the right college 

You must pick right to win big. To be competitive for a full-ride merit scholarship at any college, you'll have to rank somewhere in the top 10-25% of its applicant pool. Researching colleges for their admission stats can help you get an idea of whether you are competitive.

Use College Navigator to look up colleges by name. Look at the "Admissions" tab, which will show ACT/SAT scores for accepted students. You may also find the academic profile of past applicants on the school's website or by Googling "name of college + academic profile."

ACT and SAT test scores for John Hopkins University

Don't totally count yourself out if you're don't have the GPA and test scores listed, since many colleges look for special talents or student activities too.

9. Participating in Leadership Roles: 

Developing leadership abilities can make you stand out from the crowd and increase your chances of securing a full-ride scholarship.

Participating in student government, being a club leader, or being the leader of a sports team can all help increase your eligibility for certain scholarships. Demonstrating leadership skills gives you an edge, and organizations may be more likely to consider your application for a full-ride scholarship. These activities allow you to:

  • Show dedication towards improving the school community by serving as a student class officer.
  • Demonstrate a passion for your field by creating or joining clubs related to your interests.
  • Show how you're making a difference in your community beyond academics or athletics.

10. Build Strong Mentorship Connections 

Cultivate relationships with teachers, coaches, and other adults who can offer guidance and write impactful letters of recommendation. Teachers and counselors write dozens of letters of recommendation each year. After a while, some might veer into the generic. However, if you have made it a point to get to know your teachers and counselors, they can provide more details about you and allow you to stand out.

11. Seek Advice from your Guidance Counselor

Talk with a guidance counselor at your school who can give you important Advice about the best scholarships for you to pursue. Your counselor will be able to provide additional information about offers you were not aware of. Most high schools keep a running list of the scholarship dollar amount each high school class won, so your counselor should be familiar with scholarships other students have won.

12. Prepare a strong application 

Once you've done your best to make your academics and leadership shine, you need to put together a standout application. Make sure your scholarship essay stands out and gives more information about you than what's already on your grades and resume. Make sure your essay also answers any questions the application asks.

If you're require to do an interview, practice answering questions you might be asked so you can give clear answers and examples. But don't over-prepare - you don't want to sound rehearsed. Have a review of some of the experiences you put on your resume to talk about if asked.

RELATED: Scholarship Interview Guide

If you're aiming for a full-ride scholarship, you might get lucky with some college programs. Many just need a regular school application. It's important to make sure yours is strong so you can be accepted and get a chance at the scholarship. Plus, start looking into scholarships early and get ready to work hard. With luck and lots of effort, you could be well on your way to winning the scholarships you desire.

Top Full-Ride Scholarships You Can Win

Here are some top full-ride scholarships that cover your tuition, room and board, fees, and other advantages to help you reach your educational objectives.

Cameron Impact Scholarship

Screenshot of the Cameron Impact Scholarship homepage.

The Cameron Impact Scholarship is an annual award of up to $50,000 granted to college-bound high school seniors in the United States. Established in 2014 by the foundation's founder, former venture capitalist Dan and Jill Cameron, the award is designed to assist recipients with their higher education expenses. 

Eligible candidates must have demonstrated leadership and commitment to positively impacting their communities and demonstrate academic excellence, extracurricular involvement, and financial need. The scholarship also provides mentorship opportunities for each scholar and is renewable for up to four years of undergraduate study.

The Coolidge Scholarship

This Coolidge Scholarship award is given out to the top 20 high school seniors who have great academic accomplishments, moral integrity, and the potential to be a leader. You'd not only receive full tuition, room and board, and other fees, but you'd also be recognized!

The scholarship was established by President Ronald Reagan in 1984.

Since then, it has been helping students reach their goals. Many recipients attend some of the top colleges in the country. Check to see if you're eligible to apply. The deadline is usually around February each year.

USDA 1890 National Scholars program

Get a full-ride scholarship to study agriculture, food science, natural resource sciences, or related disciplines at one of the nineteen 1890 Historically Black Land-Grant Universities (HBLG) with the USDA 1890 National Scholars Program.

Eligible students must be a US citizens, accepted by an HBLG institution, and enrolled in an undergraduate program to qualify. 

The program is designed to increase the number of students from HBLGUs pursuing degrees in agricultural sciences, food sciences, nutritional sciences, natural resource sciences, and other related disciplines. 

Questbridge Scholarship

The Questbridge program helps high-achieving, low-income students access America's top universities and colleges. The scholarship amount awarded varies based on individual needs and the institution; however, the average award is upwards of $40,000. The program also offers virtual mentoring and college counseling, as well as college tours and college fairs, to help students make informed decisions about their college choice.

Equally important, students who are part of this program go on to some top colleges like Brown, Dartmouth, Tufts Wellesley, Penn, Notre Dame, Columbia, Bowdoin, University of Chicago, Yale, Washington University in St. Louis, and USC, among others.

Jack Kent Cooke Foundation scholarship

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation scholarship is reserved for high-achieving high school seniors with financial need. Each scholarship is worth up to $40,000 per year for tuition. 

Moreover, the program provides students with advice via counseling and a chance to network.

Students will need to have a cumulative high school grade point average of 3.5 on a 4.0 scale or its equivalent to be considered. Plus, they must demonstrate leadership experience, demonstrate unmet financial need, and be accepted to a college or university in the United States. 

Terry Foundation Scholarship

Texas high school seniors who demonstrate strong leadership skills, academic achievement, and financial need can receive a full-ride scholarship through the Terry Foundation to attend one of the thirteen participating universities in Texas.

The Traditional Scholarship or Freshman Scholarship awards full tuition, fees, room, and board to college-bound students graduating from a Texas high school. Applicants must demonstrate outstanding academic achievement and significant proven leadership. Students must also demonstrate significant financial need.

McDermott Scholarship (Eugene McDermott Scholars Program) 

If you're a super smart student, you could be eligible for a full-ride scholarship, amazing travel experiences, and expert development through the Eugene McDermott Scholars Program at the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD).

Being chosen for this honor is incredibly competitive, so you have to be in the top 10% of the applicant pool. This program covers the cost of tuition, fees, and living expenses each year. Plus, it offers chances to go abroad and participate in special research opportunities to help you grow even more.

Evans Caddie Scholarship

Young golf caddies who have demonstrated excellent character, academics, and financial need can receive a renewable scholarship that covers tuition fees and housing costs at select universities across the United States through the Evans Scholars program.

Military-Based Full Ride Opportunities

Here are some military-based full-ride scholarships available to you: 

Army ROTC Scholarships

The Army ROTC Scholarships program furnishes full-tuition awards to those who have agreed to join the military after graduating from high school or college. And students may receive an additional $420 per month for housing and other expenses and $1,200 per year for books. 

Military Academies

homepage of West Point Academy

Want to attend a military academy? Students who are interested in joining the military can qualify for full-ride scholarships to one of the four top military academies West PointUS Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy, and the US Merchant Marine Academy. Upon graduation, students must commit to serving as commissioned officers in their respective branches of service. 

The application process is rather lengthy and includes a nomination by your state's congressional representative.

Therefore, you must start the application process by the spring of your junior year in high school. To learn more about this process, contact your state's congressional representative's office and sign up for one of the information sessions. You can find your member of congress here.

SMART Scholarship Program

The SMART Scholarship Program provides full-ride scholarships to students pursuing degrees in STEM fields who are interested in working for the Department of Defense. Recipients also receive a paid summer internship at a DoD facility.

Students also receive guaranteed employment with the Department of Defense after they graduate from college.

Realistic Expectations & Alternative Financial Aid Options

Don't put all your eggs in the full-ride scholarship basket, as they are rare and hard to come by. According to the, "only 7% of college students will receive a scholarship." An even smaller number of students will receive a full-ride scholarship.

Therefore, it's important to look at more than just full-ride scholarships. You should also apply for the smaller awards put out by private organizations and the college you want to attend. This could give you more chances to take part in educational activities that help you grow.

Also, don't forget to apply for federal financial aid, including grants, work-study programs, and low-interest loans. Submit your FAFSA application as soon as you can in the final year of high school to boost your chances of getting aid.

RELATED: Financial Aid Guide

Winning a full-ride scholarship is a great achievement. However, don't forget to look at all the other ways you can pay for college too. Doing this can help you make college more affordable and possible.

FAQs about How to Get a Full Ride Scholarship

How to increase the chances of getting a full-ride scholarship?

You can make your chances of winning a scholarship better by doing well in school, joining clubs, doing volunteer work, and writing good essays. Start looking for scholarships early and try to apply for more than one.

What SAT score will get you a full ride?

A high SAT score can help, but it's not a guarantee for a full-ride scholarship. Typically, scores above 1500 (out of 1600) make you more competitive for merit-based awards. However, other factors like GPA, extracurriculars, and leadership skills also play a crucial role. Remember that some scholarship programs and colleges have moved to test-optional or no longer require these scores.

How competitive are full-ride scholarships?

It is very hard to get a full-ride scholarship. Only about 2% of people get these scholarships each year. But there are smaller scholarships that can add up to cover college expenses.

Some full-ride scholarships are based on your academic achievements or exceptional talent (merit-based). In contrast, others are based on your financial need (need-based). However, some need-based scholarships may require a high GPA and leadership. Check your eligibility for each scholarship and ensure you do your best on your application to get the best results.


To go to college without worrying about money, work hard in high school and use your talents. Try to be a leader in your community, and look for different scholarships as early as possible. This will give you the best chance of winning one. Look for other ways to pay for college too.


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