If you’ve ever dreamt of winning a full-ride scholarship and going to college for free, you’re not alone! It’s the ideal scenario that can take away any stress regarding tricky student loan applications or troublesome post-graduation student loan debt. 

But you don’t just want to dream about full-ride scholarships. You want to win a full-ride scholarship! 

But how exactly do you do that? What kind of students win full-ride scholarships? Where do you even go to find full-ride scholarships? And, if you don’t win a full-ride scholarship, is it still possible to go to college for free? 

All good questions. And at Scholly, it’s our mission to simplify the process of finding and winning scholarships because we want you to win them to help pay for college too! That’s why in this post, we’re going to answer each of those questions and more so that you know everything you need to know about full-ride scholarships.

But before we jump in, one quick note: If you want to be matched with new scholarships every month, from full-ride scholarships to small no essay scholarships, start your free Scholly Search trial today. Our #1 rated scholarship app will instantly match you with hundreds-of-thousands of dollars scholarships based on your interests, accomplishments, and traits. Get started with a 100% free trial!

Now, let’s get started by first talking about what “full-ride scholarship” actually means. 

What is a Full-Ride Scholarship? 

A full-ride scholarship is a scholarship that covers a college’s full cost of attendance. That means, in addition to covering your tuition, a full-ride scholarship also covers your room and board, books, and student fees. 

Some full-ride scholarships even offer extra perks like funds for a new laptop, study abroad, and leadership programs.  

When looking for full-ride scholarships, you may also come across full-tuition scholarships. But it’s important to know that those two things are not the same. Unlike full-ride scholarships, full-tuition scholarships only cover the cost of tuition. 

Both types of scholarships, full-ride and full-tuition, are obviously amazing at helping you pay for college. But full-ride scholarships are the absolute best for ensuring you pay $0 for college

How Common are Full-Ride Scholarships? 

Because full-ride scholarships are such a good deal, you probably won’t be surprised to find out they’re pretty rare. In fact, fewer than 20,000 students per year win full-ride scholarships — less than 1% of each year’s incoming college freshmen.

But does that mean putting together applications for full-ride scholarships isn’t worth your time? Not at all!

For one, full-ride scholarship applications generally ask for the same materials as other scholarship applications. So, if you’re already applying for scholarships (you should be!), you can likely “recycle” the materials that take up the most time to complete (e.g. scholarship essays). 

And, depending on when you’re reading this, you may still have time to plan ahead on everything you’ll need to do to put together a really strong application for one or more full-ride scholarships! 

We’ll share some application and preparation tips soon. But first, let’s take a look at where you can find full-ride scholarships. 

Where to Look for Full-Ride Scholarships

It’s not always easy to find scholarships, let alone rare full-ride scholarships, on the internet. That’s because scholarship information is sometimes buried on old websites that still haven’t been updated to be found when you put something like “full ride scholarships” into Google. 

Frustrating? You bet. But don’t worry! 

At Scholly, our goal is to help simplify the way you find scholarships. For example, with Scholly Search (available on iOS, Android, and your web browser) you can gain access to a large database of scholarships worth millions-and-millions of dollars! Scholly Search matches you with all of the scholarships you qualify for so that you don’t miss out on any chances to win free money to pay for college. 

Let’s look now at a few examples of full-ride scholarships you might find that are offered by colleges, private organizations, and the government. And remember, this is just a sample. Scholly Search has hundreds of full ride scholarships available at any given time. 

6 Full-Ride Scholarships from Universities 

Nancy Susan Reynolds Scholarship

Quick Facts: This full-ride scholarship covers the annual cost of tuition, room, and board, plus $3,400 for personal expenses for four years of undergraduate study at Wake Forest University. As a Reynolds Scholar, you can also apply for up to $5,000 for a research, study, or travel project during each of the three summers between the first and senior years.

You’ll have the highest chance of getting this scholarship if you excel in academics and on standardized tests, take challenging courses, and have demonstrated leadership in extracurriculars. Up to five Reynolds Scholars are chosen annually.

Jefferson Scholarship

Quick Facts: This full-ride scholarship covers tuition, fees, books, supplies, room, board, and personal expenses for four years of undergraduate study at the University of Virginia. As a recipient, you also get to take advantage of supplemental enrichment experiences, which include foreign travel studies, career counseling, the Institute for Leadership and Citizenship, and more. 

To win this scholarship, you must first be nominated for the regional competition by your school during your senior year, be selected as a finalist, and then participate in the Jefferson Scholarship Selection Event in late March. In 2019-2020, 32 Jefferson Scholars were chosen from a pool of more than 2,000 nominees.

Morehead-Cain Scholars

Quick Facts: This full-ride scholarship provides four years of full funding (including summers) for undergraduates studying at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As a Morehead-Cain Scholar, you can also receive funding for an international gap year and study abroad as well as apply for their Discovery Fund grants of up to $8,000 to fund a personal project.

This scholarship is available to students across the world. But to win, you must first be nominated by your school, an affiliate program, or apply directly. In particular, the Morehead-Cain Foundation states they seek to award students who are “motivated, courageous, and inquisitive leaders interested in embracing new and unknown experiences and impacting— positively and

profoundly—the people and pursuits that define their lives.” The number of students awarded the Morehead-Cain Scholarship varies per year. 

Trustee Scholarship 

Quick Facts: This full-ride scholarship covers full undergraduate tuition plus mandatory undergraduate student fees for four years at Boston University

To be considered for the Trustee Scholarship, you must have exceptional academic credentials, demonstrate that you’re well-rounded through leadership and extracurriculars, submit your application to study at Boston University by December 1, and write a 600-word essay. Around 20 students per year win the Trustee Scholarship. 

Stephen Joel Trachtenberg Scholarship

Quick Facts: This full-ride scholarship covers tuition, room and board, books, and fees for four years of undergraduate study at the George Washington University

To apply, you must be a D.C. high school senior. The Stephen Joel Trachtenberg Scholarship Program also selects recipients based on their academic record, including GPA, course of study, teacher recommendations, leadership qualities, community service, and other extracurricular activities and achievements. You’re also required to apply to GWU by the January 5 deadline, submit the FAFSA and CSS Profile, write an essay, and participate in an evaluative interview. 10 students won the Stephen Joel Trachtenberg Scholarship in 2020. 

Torch Scholars Program 

Quick Facts: This full-ride scholarship covers tuition, room and board, books, and fees for four years of undergraduate study at Northeastern University. As a recipient, you’d also get to participate in the program’s seven-week Summer Immersion Program, peer and professional mentoring, and more. 

To be eligible, you must be a first-generation student from a diverse background, demonstrate perseverance in achieving academically in spite of adversity, show leadership in school and extracurricular activities, and have previously enrolled in college prep classes. You must also be nominated by an adult (non-family member) and submit your application to Northeastern, the FAFSA and CSS Profile by January 1, write three essays, and participate in several rounds of interviews. 10 students win a Torch Scholarship per year. 

3 Full-Ride Scholarships from Private Organizations 

Gates Scholarship

Quick Facts: Awarded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Gates Scholarship covers the full cost of attendance, including tuition, room and board, books, transportation, and other personal costs. The scholarship is renewable for up to five years of full-time undergraduate study at any US accredited, not-for-profit, private or public college or university.

To apply, you must be a high school senior from an ethnic minority background, be Pell Grant eligible, and have at least a cumulative weighted 3.3 GPA of 3.3 on a 4.0 scale. The ideal recipient will have also placed in the top 10% of their class, demonstrated leadership, and developed exceptional personal success skills (e.g., emotional maturity, motivation, perseverance, etc.). Each year, 300 students win a Gates Scholarship. 

(Learn more about the Gates Scholarship by checking out this guide on How to Win the Gates Scholarship!)

The Robertson Scholars Leadership Program

Quick Facts: The Robertson Scholars Leadership Program provides eight semesters of full tuition, room and board, and most mandatory fees for students who choose to study at Duke University or UNC-Chapel Hill. Recipients of this scholarship also have access to generous funding for up to three summer experiences, funding for conferences throughout the academic year, and two semesters of study abroad.

To apply, you must submit ACT or SAT scores, 2 recommendation letters, an application to study at Duke University and/or UNC-Chapel Hill during the same year of your scholarship application. The program seeks to award students who have demonstrated outstanding potential to become great leaders in college and beyond.

Stamps Scholarships

Quick Facts: The Strive Foundation has partnered with 36 US colleges and universities to offer students multi-year Stamps Scholarships that range from $5,400 to $75,000 per year. Stamps Scholars may also receive additional funding for things like study abroad, academic conferences, and leadership training. The Strive Foundation and partner schools evenly share the costs of the awards.

As long as you apply to one of the 36 partner schools and meet the criteria and eligibility, you will be automatically considered for a Stamps Scholarship. However, each school has its own deadlines and may have additional steps to submit a complete application. The Strive Foundation and partner schools seek to award students who demonstrate academic merit, strong leadership potential, and exceptional character. Financial need is not required to become a Stamps Scholar. 

2 Full-Ride Scholarships from the Government 

USDA/1890 National Scholars Program

Quick Facts: The USDA/1890 National Scholars Program is a partnership between USDA and the 1890 historically black land-grant colleges and universities. The program provides full tuition, fees, books, room and board to students pursuing degrees in agriculture, food, natural resource sciences, or related academic disciplines at one of the nineteen 1890 historically black land-grant colleges and universities. When the student has completed the academic and summer work requirements of the scholarship, USDA may at its discretion convert the student to a permanent employee without further competition.

To apply, you must be a U.S. citizen, have a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or better (on a 4.0 scale), demonstrate leadership and community service, and submit an official transcript and signed application. In addition to high school seniors, rising college sophomores and juniors are also eligible. 

U.S. Air Force ROTC Scholarships

Quick Facts: The Type 1 U.S. Air Force ROTC Scholarship provides full funding for college tuition and authorized fees at any public or private institution with an Air Force ROTC detachment. Recipients also receive a monthly living expense stipend, an annual book stipend, and reimbursement of travel expenses used to go from their home to the Air Force ROTC detachment’s college.

To apply, you must be a U.S. citizen, pass a Department of Defense Medical Examination Review Board medical exam, complete a physical fitness test and have a cumulative unweighted GPA of 3.0 or higher and an SAT composite of 1240 or ACT composite of 26. If awarded a scholarship, you must accept and sign an agreement with the United States Air Force.

7 Tips for Winning Full-Ride Scholarships 

Because of how rare they are, winning full-ride scholarships isn’t easy. But with the right game plan, you can set yourself for a higher chance of success! Here are 7 tips to help you do just that: 

#1 Start preparing early 

Winning a full-ride scholarship takes a lot of preparation. So, you’ll be more likely to win one if you start preparing early in high school to build a strong academic and extracurricular profile. Later in high school, it’s also a good idea to start working on your scholarship applications as soon as they’re released. 

#2 Take challenging courses 

Full-ride scholarship foundations want to award students who not only have strong grades but who have also challenged themselves with a rigorous course load. Strive to take Advanced Placement, Honors, IB, and College Prep courses in subjects you can excel in. You may also be able to earn college credits while in high school by taking courses at a local community college or university. 

#3 Develop leadership skills

Leadership is one of the most sought after qualities in full-ride scholarship applicants. So, strive to achieve leadership positions (captain, student president, club founder, etc.) and noteworthy accomplishments in your extracurricular activities, community service projects, student government, jobs, and internships.

#4 Commit to community service

Full-ride scholarship foundations also like to see applicants who commit to giving back to their communities. The quality or your community service is more important than just stacking up a bunch of community service hours. It’s best if you pick one or two causes you really care about and commit to service over the entire course of your time in high school — even when it’s not part of your graduation requirements. 

#5 Build relationships with your teachers and guidance counselor 

Many full-ride scholarships require that you’re first nominated by someone like a teacher or guidance counselor. So, you’ll want to make sure you’ve built a good relationship with them so that they know you and your goals for higher education well. Most likely, they will be happy to support you! Some scholarship applications will also require you to get one or more recommendation letters.

#6 Hone in on what makes you unique  

With so many strong applicants applying for the limited number of full-ride scholarships, you’ll need to make sure you stand out. Try to make sure your selection of academic courses, extracurricular activities, and community service are a reflection of your unique interests and values. Also, know that there are many scholarships for students with unique traits and characteristics! 

#7 Submit a spectacular scholarship application

All of the previous tips will lead you to this last one. But make sure that you present everything in the best way on your scholarship applications by making sure you follow all of the application instructions, complete any “optional” work, learn how to write a killer scholarship essay, and meticulously proofread your essays and application materials.

(For more tips, check out 15 Expert Tips on How to Win College Scholarships!)

How to Go to College for Free Even If You Don’t Get a Full-Ride Scholarship

There is no doubt that full-ride scholarships are amazing. But they aren’t the only way to go to college for free. 

If, in addition to full-ride scholarships, you also apply to many other scholarships of various amounts, you might be able to create your own set of “full-ride” scholarships! Let us show you what we mean. 

Let’s say, for example, you win one scholarship worth $20,000 per year and another one worth $15,000 per year. With the average cost to attend an out-of-state public college currently being $22,577, those scholarships pretty much equal a “full-ride”! 

To give another example, let’s say you win several scholarships: one for $15,000, two for $5,000, one for $1,000, and two more for $500. Well, that’s $27,000 and also enough for a “full-ride” to an out-of-state public college! 

So, even if you don’t win a full-ride scholarship, that dream you had of avoiding student loans and debt with scholarship money that covers everything is still possible! You just need to cast a wide net by applying for as many scholarships as you can. 

With that goal in mind, make sure to check out Scholly Search to help make the process of finding all those scholarships as easy as can be!