College is a highlight in many people’s lives. But paying for those four years of undergrad can also be a source of tremendous stress. That’s why seeking out scholarships can be worth all the time and effort. In this article, we'll go over the basics of how to get a full-ride scholarship.
However, let's first talk about why getting a full ride to college can be beneficial!
Benefits of receiving a full-ride scholarship
Getting into your dream school may feel amazing at first. That is until you and your family look at the price tag that comes with it.
Four years of classes, books, equipment, and room and board get very costly. And don’t forget the added expenses of social life and extra-curricular activities!
But if you look hard enough, you may be eligible for thousands of scholarships, some of which may even be full rides.
Less financial stress in college
It may take hours to research and apply, but learning how to get a full ride to college far outweighs the effort. First, you and your loved ones—will go through your college years with way less financial stress. This means you can focus on more important things such as your studies and your social life.
Having tuition and living expenses paid for also gives you the financial leeway to pursue other opportunities. For instance, unpaid internships, research positions, or volunteer opportunities you otherwise couldn't participate in.
It means you can avoid costly student loans too. You’ll gain skills, grow your network, and fill your resume without having to worry about paying your bills.
Cash to put towards other financial goals
Even beyond graduation, you’ll feel the effects of your scholarship. For example, whatever money you earn during undergrad can be saved for other financial goals you have. Such as a big move, a down payment on a house, or whatever else you need in the future.
You can also invest more right out of college without student debt looming over you. Getting your university education paid for will put you years ahead of your peers who face costly student debt. So you can see the benefits of knowing how to get a full ride to college!
What is a full ride scholarship?
A full-ride scholarship means that every element of the college experience are covered. This includes tuition and fees, books, meals, lodging, and potentially even travel and other living costs.
The full-ride scholarship is special because tuition isn’t always the only financial barrier to students attending their top-choice universities. Keep in mind that full-ride scholarships can also be based on merit or need.
Merit-based scholarships look at things you’ve accomplished. These use GPA, test scores, work and volunteer experience, research, etc., to determine who best deserves the scholarship funds.
On the other hand, need-based scholarships aim to give financially disadvantaged students a leg-up. These use factors such as family income, zip code, or other indicators of wealth to decide who’s most in need of the scholarship money. You can check out our list of scholarships for black women, for example.
Scholarship categories and funding
When it comes to how to get a full ride scholarship, there are different categories to consider as you do your research.
Private scholarship programs
One source includes private scholarship programs, often funded by an association, company, or private donor. These can be both merit- and need-based and may be highly specific in qualifications. For example, they may fund female STEM students.
On the upside, the selection of private scholarships is nearly endless. However, that also makes it a bit daunting because you’ll need to hand-pick which to apply to and submit a customized application for each.
Institutional scholarship programs
Your university will also have funds available to students. These institutional opportunities can either be need-based or merit-based.
Need-based funds are often financial aid loans that will need to be repaid. So check carefully before applying or accepting the terms.
One advantage of institutional scholarships is that you may apply to their system once to be eligible for many different options.
Employer scholarship programs
Lastly, employer scholarship programs use a unique model. They pay for your schooling in exchange for a commitment to work at their organization after graduation. Sometimes even during undergrad for a certain amount of time.
The most common of these opportunities are military ROTC programs. However, hospitals and nursing homes also commonly fund CNAs’ bachelor’s degrees on their path to becoming nurses.
Tips on how to get a full-ride scholarship
Finding out how to get a full ride to college can help you avoid student debt and free up money for your budget too. So, what’s the best plan of attack for how to get a full-ride scholarship? Here are 5 tips to help you get started.
1. Start the preparation for your full-ride scholarship applications early
Scholarships can have different deadlines, so it's important to prepare by filling out applications early. For instance, some scholarship deadlines are early in the year before college even begins.
So the saying "the early bird gets the worm" is especially true in this case. Apply as early as possible so that you won't miss the deadline.
2. Focus on your grades and leadership skills
Way before your senior year of high school, focus on your grades and extra-curricular activities. Everything that the university admissions department would care about, scholarship committees will also evaluate (especially merit-based ones).
And in all your activities, aim to develop your leadership and become an exemplary member; don’t settle for simply being on the roster.
3. Build out your network of teachers and mentors
It's good to build relationships with teachers and mentors throughout high school. However, it is essential in the year or two leading up to college application season. These are people who you’ll be able to call on for strong recommendations.
4. Do your research for full-ride scholarships and apply broadly
Part of learning how to get a full-ride scholarship is doing research and applying to multiple programs. You can increase your chances by applying to as many programs as possible. There are a variety of ways to search for scholarships that you can apply to.
You can start by contacting the financial aid office at the colleges you are interested in attending. Another way is to use the U.S. Department of Labor’s free scholarship search tool. Be sure to check with your State Grant agencies too.
Another option is to check with your employer for scholarship programs and tuition assistance. Some companies offer 100% tuition reimbursement, which is another option on how to get a full-ride to college!
5. Organize and track your applications
When it comes time to apply for funds, stay super organized. Track all the necessary components so that your application isn’t missing even the smallest detail. You will likely need to collect (or write) essays, transcripts, recommendation letters, and financial statements.
In both your research and your applications, think about what makes you unique. Is it your musical skill or your intent to study something specific? Is it your ethnic background or the community you come from?
Most scholarships are set aside because the donors want to support students who share similar interests or backgrounds to themselves. If you fit the bill, you’re already at an advantage just for being you.
Get a full-ride scholarship to fund your education
So, now you know how to get a full-ride scholarship. Of course, any scholarship money you receive is helpful, especially if it can keep you out of student debt completely or allow for smaller loans. Earning a full-ride scholarship is the ultimate goal, but don’t hesitate to pursue smaller funds too.
You may be able to piece together multiple scholarships that can add up to almost full funding, especially if the terms don’t limit how you can use the money.
Go for as many scholarships as you have the bandwidth to apply for. Whether it's a full-ride scholarship or other tuition assistance, learning how to get a full ride to college is majorly beneficial to your finances.
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