The full-ride scholarship: the most mythical of scholarships that all students secretly (or not-so-secretly) dream of. Unfortunately, these scholarships are hard to come by, and they're even more difficult to win.
Though many schools offer full-ride or full-tuition scholarships, there are also a handful of scholarships out there—run by independent organizations and even the government—that you can use at almost any school. Read on to learn about some of the most highly sought-after scholarships in the country.
What Is a Full-Ride Scholarship?
A full-ride scholarship is the unicorn of scholarships. It's estimated that fewer than 20,000 students per year will manage to get one of these scholarships—that's less than 1 percent of the students who will enroll in college!
By far, the vast majority of these scholarships come from universities and colleges that are trying to attract top students to their campuses. Full-ride scholarships from private organizations that you can use at any school are even more rare.
These scholarships cover not just tuition but also additional expenses, such as room and board, travel costs, and textbooks.
Who Should Apply For These Scholarships?
High school students who think they are the cream of the crop should apply for the scholarships listed below. You'll see that some of them have specific requirements, such as race or location, whereas others are open to anyone.
You should be at the top of your class (most of these scholarships are looking for students in the top 10 percent) and have high test scores. You should also have specific, strong examples of your leadership skills, community involvement, and excellent character.
Unsurprisingly, most of these scholarship applications will require you to do some writing, so make sure you're a strong writer, too.
Finally, expect to need top-notch letters of recommendation from multiple sources.
Top Advice for Winning a Full-Ride Scholarship
Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Even if you have the attributes mentioned above, there are going to be a lot of other students out there who have done just as well as you have. There are a lot more great students than there are full-ride scholarships, so you're not going to get one unless you're really lucky.
You'll have a much better chance of winning scholarship money if you don't try to get it all in one go. Think about your strengths, what you want to pursue in college, and your favorite activities, and go out and find several smaller scholarships to apply to. Though the payoff won't be one lump sum, you'll have much less competition and a far higher chance of success.
12 Fantastic Full-Ride Scholarships
This list includes a dozen full-ride scholarships—offered by both private companies and the government—that you can use for many different schools.
Since full-ride scholarships are so rare, I've also included scholarships that are not full rides but have a high-enough award amount that they could easily cover tuition and fees at many universities.
This may be one of the weirdest scholarships you'll come across!
This scholarship covers full tuition and housing costs for four years for students who have successfully and regularly been golf caddies for at least the past two years.
High school juniors and seniors can be nominated for this award if they have at least a B average. Students will also be required to take the ACT or SAT, demonstrate financial need, and showcase their outstanding character, leadership, and integrity. (Note: because of COVID-19, test scores are optional when applying for the 2021 scholarship.)
Evans Scholars usually choose to attend one of the schools that has a scholarship house, where all of the scholars reside together over their four years in college. These colleges are as follows:
- University of Colorado, Boulder
- University of Chicago
- University of Illinois, Champaign
- University of Illinois, Chicago
- Northwestern University
- Indiana University
- University of Kansas
- Marquette University
- Miami University (Ohio)
- University of Michigan
- Michigan State University
- University of Maryland
- University of Minnesota
- University of Missouri
- University of Notre Dame
- Ohio State University
- University of Oregon
- Penn State University
- Purdue University
- University of Washington
- University of Wisconsin
The application for the scholarship must include the following:
- Academic evaluation from your school (with a letter of recommendation)
- A transcript and your SAT/ACT scores (test scores are not required for 2021 applicants)
- Caddie evaluation from your golf club's manager with letter of recommendation
- CSS Financial Profile and a FAFSA Financial Student Aid Report
- Two-page essay detailing your background, future goals, and why you would be a good pick for the scholarship
Once a student receives the award, they must keep a strong academic record, be actively involved in both campus activities and the scholarship house, and show respect for their fellow scholars.
Applications are due by October 30, and decisions are finalized by April 1.
The Smart Start Scholarship provides full tuition and a paid internship at JPMorgan Chase for 10 undergraduate students every year. The awards are renewable for all four years of college.
This annual scholarship is awarded to high school seniors across New York City who are planning to attend any of the following institutions:
- Barnard College
- Baruch College
- Brooklyn College
- City College
- Columbia University
- Fordham University (Lincoln Center campus, Rosehill campus)
- Long Island University (Brooklyn campus)
- New York University
- Pace University (Manhattan campus)
- Polytechnic Institute of New York University
- St. Francis College
- St. John's University
In addition, you must be planning to major in one of the following fields:
- Computer science
- Liberal arts
- Social science
For the scholarship, you'll need to submit information about your financial circumstances and provide a resume detailing your community service involvement, extracurricular activities, honors, and internship history.
You'll also have to write several essays—including one about your greatest personal achievement, one about a team project you've done, and one about why you've chosen your major—and submit two recommendations.
Winners will be at the top of their high school classes and will demonstrate strong leadership, maturity, and initiative.
The application deadline is different every year but typically occurs in January or early February.
This scholarship awards up to $55,000 per year over four years to cover the cost of tuition, living expenses, books, and fees.
This program is aimed at high-achieving high school seniors who have financial need and want to attend top universities. Students who win the award may pursue any major or field of study, and they also receive personalized advising about choosing a college and navigating financial aid. Between 30 and 60 scholarship recipients are typically selected, with the exact number of scholarship winners varying each year.
The application includes a review of the following:
- High school grades and official high school transcript
- Participation in advanced courses
- Several short and long essays
- Extracurricular activities and honors
- Intended college major
- Letters of recommendation
- Demonstrated financial need
Successful applicants will have an unweighted GPA of 3.5 or above and intent to enroll in an accredited four-year college the following fall. Additionally, applicants must demonstrate financial need--while the scholarship will consider applications from anyone with a family income of $95,000 and below, the median family income of 2018 recipients was $35,000.
The application deadline varies, but it's usually in early November.
This program offers annual college-tuition scholarships for currently enrolled undergraduate students studying computer science, computer engineering, or related STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) disciplines and who have at least a 3.0 (on a 4.0 scale) or a 4.0 (on a 5.0 scale) GPA. Current high school students who have not yet started college are ineligible.
Diverse applicants are encouraged to apply. The scholarship covers all or part of the selected students' tuition for one year. Winners will be selected based on the quality of their application, demonstrated interest in the software business, leadership ability, and financial need.
To be eligible for this scholarship, you must also apply for a Microsoft internship. You can access internship applications here.
The scholarship application is normally open from October to January, and internship applications are posted year-round.
This scholarship provides full tuition, fees, books, and room and board each year for up to 4 years. Winners will also receive employment with the USDA during the summer and after graduation along with employee benefits.
Additionally, this award is limited to students who apply to and enroll in historically black land-grant universities and plan to study agriculture or a related field. Students who apply to attend the following schools will be eligible:
- Alabama A&M University
- Alcorn State University, Mississippi
- Central State University, Ohio
- Delaware State University
- Florida A&M University
- Fort Valley State University, Georgia
- Kentucky State University
- Langston University, Oklahoma
- Lincoln University, Missouri
- North Carolina A&T State University
- Prairie View A&M University, Texas
- South Carolina State University
- Southern University, Louisiana
- Tennessee State University
- Tuskegee University, Alabama
- University of Arkansas Pine Bluff
- University of Maryland Eastern Shore
- Virginia State University
- West Virginia State University
Applicants must be US citizens and high school graduates about to start their first year of college. All applicants should:
- Have a 3.0 GPA or higher
- Plan to attend one of the 18 1890 Historically Black Land-Grant Universities
- Intend to study food, agriculture, or natural resource sciences
- Have a 1080 or higher on the SAT or a 21 or higher on the ACT
- Have a track record of leadership and community service
The one additional note to this scholarship is that if you receive it, you'll be required to work for the USDA one year for each year of the scholarship. So for example, if you receive this scholarship for four years, you'll be required to work for the USDA for four years once you graduate.
The application deadline is January 31st.
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This national contest allows the country's most promising young scientists and mathematicians to conduct long-term original research projects and compete to win money.
In order to apply, you must have conducted individual research in a scientific or mathematical field of study for six months or more. Additionally, students must submit a research report with their application in order to be considered.
Projects may encompass a variety of STEM research fields, including the following:
- Computer science
- Environmental science
- Planetary science
Forty high school seniors who are shortlisted as finalists will present their work in Washington DC during a week-long event in the spring.
All finalists receive prizes, with a first-place prize of $250,000, a second-place prize of $175,000, and a third-place prize of $150,000. Even finalists in 11th place and onward receive $25,000 each, while regional semifinalists receive $2,000 each!
Applications are due in early November.
Dr. Pepper awards $100,000 of tuition money (as well as many smaller prizes ranging from $1,000 to $20,000) to five students annually. This money may be used to cover educational expenses or to pay off student loans. You must be between the ages of 18 and 24 in order to qualify.
To apply, you have to create a TikTok explaining why you deserve a full tuition scholarship, how the scholarship will impact your life, and how it will help you meet your goals. Dr Pepper encourages you to be creative, passionate, and authentic. To make sure your TikTok is considered, you must use the hashtag #IDeserveTuitionContest and Dr Pepper’s song.
If you’re selected as a finalist, you’ll receive a DM (direct message) with instructions for the next phase of the contest. The top ten students will be invited to compete for the grand prize. They'll go head-to-head in a football throwing competition, where the winner receives $100,000 and the runner up receives $25,000.
Here's a clip of the competition!
Every year, Flinn Scholarships go to 20 of Arizona's highest-achieving high school seniors planning to study at an Arizona public university (including Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, and the University of Arizona).
This scholarship covers the full cost of tuition for four years, fees, room and board, a summer seminar in China, an additional study-abroad experience, an internship program, mentorship, and social activities (for scholarship winners only). All of that is valued at over $120,000!
In addition, Flinn Scholars get to work with top researchers and faculty members, meet with business and community leaders, enroll in an honors college, and connect with alumni.
It's worth noting that this scholarship is pretty competitive. The minimum requirements are as follows:
- Be a U.S. citizen of lawful permanent resident, and also be an Arizona resident for two full years prior to enrolling in the university
- 3.5 unweighted GPA (on a 4.0 scale)
- Top 5% of class
- Participate in extracurricular and leadership activities
To apply, students must provide the following:
- Information about their families, studies, employment, and extracurricular activities
- Answers to five short essay questions
- Three longer essays
- Two teacher recommendations
- Grades and high school transcripts
- An official academic report from your high school guidance counselor
The application typically opens in late August and closes in early October.
The Army ROTC offers many scholarships to high school seniors and college students, including some that cover the full cost of tuition, room and board, books, and fees. They also include monthly stipends to offset additional costs. These scholarships are available for all four years of college.
To be eligible, you must be a US citizen between the ages of 17 and 26 and agree to an eight-year service commitment with the Army (this may be active duty, or the Reserve or National Guard)
You must also meet the following requirements:
- Have at least a 2.5 high school GPA
- Have a high school diploma (or equivalent)
- Earn a minimum 1000 on the SAT or 19 on the ACT
- Meet all physical standards
The deadline is typically in early February.
Like the Army, the Air Force ROTC offers several scholarships to high school seniors and college students, including some that cover the full cost of tuition for four years as well as lab and textbook fees. Winners also get stipends of up to $500 a month.
To be eligible, you must agree to a four-year service commitment with the Air Force. In addition, you must meet the following requirements:
- Plan to study an approved major
- Have at least a 3.0 high school GPA
- Have a high school diploma (or equivalent)
- Earn a minimum 1240 on the SAT or 26 on the ACT
- Meet all physical standards
The application deadline for the four-year scholarship is typically in December or January.
The Navy ROTC offers many scholarships to students who are graduating high school and those already in college. They have a variety of scholarships available, including some that 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. These scholarships are available for all four years of college.
To be eligible, you must be a US citizen between 17 and 23 and agree to a five-year service commitment with the Navy. You must also meet the following requirements:
- Study an approved major
- Have a minimum 1200 SAT score (at least 540 on SAT Math and 550 on Evidence-Based Reading and Writing) or a minimum 47 combined ACT Math and English score (at least 21 on ACT Math and 22 on English)
- Meet all physical standards
The deadline for the four-year national scholarship is typically in January.
This scholarship encourages STEM students to work in national defense. Students who win this scholarship will receive coverage for full tuition and education-related fees, summer research internships, health insurance, and mentoring. In addition, winners will get stipends of $25,000-$38,000 per year and employment placement after graduation.
In order to be eligible, you must:
- Be a US, Australian, New Zealand, Canada, or UK citizen who's at least 18 years old
- Be an enrolled undergraduate or (admitted or enrolled) graduate student (high school students are ineligible for this scholarship)
- Have at least a 3.0 GPA
- Major in an accepted discipline
- Pass security clearance
- Be able to participate in DoD internships and work for the DoD after graduation
The application period is from August to early December.
Did you know that sometimes getting a scholarship is as easy as applying to your school of choice? Check out this list of schools that automatically offer scholarships based on grades and test scores.
Want to know about some of the odder scholarships that are out there? Here are some weird scholarships you can win!
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Mary Ann holds a BA in Classics and Russian from the University of Notre Dame, and an MA from University College London. She has years of tutoring experience and is also passionate about travel and learning languages.