full-ride scholarship

Full-Tuition and Full-Ride Scholarships: Are They the Same?

I think most students would agree that finding a scholarship that covers all of their college expenses would be a huge blessing. But would that award be called a full-tuition scholarship or a full-ride scholarship? With so many people using the terms interchangeably, it can get a bit confusing. Personally, a school could call its award the ‘We’ll Pay for Everything’ Scholarship, and I wouldn’t care, especially if it meant I was taking out fewer student loans. I do, however, think it’s important for students to understand the subtle differences in each program.

Full-Tuition ScholarshipsLet’s start with the full-tuition scholarship. Just as the name suggests, it covers tuition costs at college. This typically is restricted to the published tuition, but may also include lab or other student fees, as well as books. Many colleges offer full-tuition scholarships to incoming freshmen (or transfer students) for high academic achievement, such as scoring within a certain range on the SAT or ACT, or meeting a required grade point average (GPA) or class ranking. Although some colleges have one set of standards, many require out-of-state students to achieve even higher academic marks to qualify for these awards. Some colleges also offer guaranteed scholarships; this means students who meet the requirements will automatically receive the award. Here are two examples of guaranteed, full-tuition scholarship programs.

Louisiana State University at Shreveport

First-time, full-time freshmen who have an ACT of 30 or higher, as well as a GPA of 3.5 or higher, are eligible for the Louisiana Scholarship. This award covers tuition, fees, and also provides a book allowance.

University of Alabama

The University of Alabama offers the Presidential Scholar Award to incoming freshmen who apply before the scholarship priority deadline of December 15. In-state students must have a 3.5 GPA or higher, and score above a 30 on the ACT or 1330 (reading and math) on the SAT. Out-of-state students must meet the same GPA requirement, but need to score above a 32 on the ACT or 1400 on the SAT. The award covers tuition only over four years.

Most colleges, however, award full-tuition scholarships on a competitive basis. This means that out-of-state and in-state students will be competing for the same awards. Competitive scholarships are usually limited in number and are typically given to the top students selected for admission. Here are just a few of the colleges that offer this type of full-tuition scholarships.

Knox CollegePresidential Scholarship

University of IllinoisProvost Scholarship

Tulane UniversityDean’s Honor Scholarship and the Paul Tulane Award

Boston UniversityTrustee Scholarship

In addition to colleges, other organizations also provide full-tuition scholarships. The military offers several through various ROTC programs, such as the Air Force ROTC High School Student Scholarship Program, and Microsoft provides several scholarships that cover the cost of tuition for one academic year.

Full Ride to CollegeOf course, the scholarship that most students really want to secure is a full-ride scholarship. This type of award not only covers tuition and fees, but also books, room and board, supplies, and sometimes even living expenses. Some awards also cover the costs for study abroad programs. These awards are limited in number and are highly competitive. Here are few examples of full-ride scholarships that are offered through various colleges.

University of Kentucky

Through its Otis A. Singletary Scholarship Program, the University of Kentucky provides a four-year award that covers tuition, room and board, a yearly $1,500 stipend, and a $2,000 stipend for a summer abroad program. Students also receive an iPad with this scholarship.

Davidson College

Incoming freshmen who are selected to receive the John Montgomery Belk Scholarship do not have to pay out-of-pocket for tuition, fees, or room and board; each scholarship recipient also receives a substantial stipend to pursue other academic endeavors.

North Carolina State University

Approximately 40 high school seniors receive the Park Scholarship annually. This four-year award covers tuition, fees, room, board, books, supplies, travel and personal expenses. Students also receive computer stipends and have access to grants for research projects, service activities, and conferences.

Several organizations also provide full-ride scholarships to exceptional students. Some target underserved or underrepresented populations, such as the one offered through the Tom Joyner Foundation. Any high achieving student who plans to attend a historically black college or university (HBCU) may be eligible to receive this award, which covers tuition, fees, room, board, and books for up to 10 semesters. Another scholarship that benefits minority students is the Gates Millennium Scholars Program. To receive one of these prestigious awards, students must not only meet certain academic standards, but must also demonstrate financial need. Unlike the majority of full-tuition and full-ride scholarships, this program is not restricted to incoming freshmen. Graduate students in various fields may also apply for funding. Outstanding high school seniors in Colorado also have access to the Boettcher Scholarship, which pays for four years of tuition, fees, and books, and also includes an annual $2,800 living stipend. Students selected for this full-ride scholarship also have access to enrichment programs and educational grants.

Earning one of these coveted awards can truly make a huge difference for students financially, but most should not expect to win full-tuition or full-ride scholarships; only a very small percentage of students receive such scholarships. Instead, students should consider a variety of funding options, including need-based grants, private scholarships, part-time work, or even crowdfunding campaigns. No matter the size of the award, every little bit helps when paying for college!

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Tamara is the Social Media Coordinator and a regular writer for ScholarshipExperts.com, eStudentLoan.com and CampusDiscovery.com. She enjoys helping students prepare for college. As a mother of four, Tamara has first-hand experience with many areas of education, including special needs (autism), the International Baccalaureate program and post-secondary education. She enjoys speaking at schools and mentoring others online. In her free time, Tamara enjoys volunteering and supporting her favorite football team, the Jacksonville Jaguars.
32 Responses to “Full-Tuition and Full-Ride Scholarships: Are They the Same?”
  1. Joy Milan says:

    Hi Tamara,

    I hope you can help me. My son’s PSAT score is 228. SAT is 2310. Robotics (FIRST), orchestra violin, latin competitions, Eagle Scout, 2 Presidential Youth service awards, but unfortunately NO MONEY. He would like to become a mechnical engineer or electrical engineer. GPA weighted is 4.6.

    Do you have any suggestions where he could get a great education in Engineering with FULL RIDE?

    • Tamara Krause says:

      Hi Joy. I’m betting he’s been applying to some of the best schools, right? That’s not going to land him a full-ride scholarship because a ton of other top-notch students will also be competing for those few golden tickets offered. If he really would like to receive some larger scholarships, I suggest looking into some lesser-known schools or smaller private schools. Even then, the chances for a full-ride are slim to none. In fact, less than 1% of all college students earn enough scholarships to cover all their expenses. I suggest having him create a free account with ScholarshipExperts.com and start tackling private scholarships, specifically those that require a lot of work or larger essays. The more work that is involved, the fewer people he will be competiting with for the award. Make sure he checks out the NESA STEM Scholarship ($50,000) when it opens in a few months.

  2. Yassine Mejdouli says:

    Hello Tamara,
    I am a bit confused about a full tuition scholarship I received. The school is also having me fill out a FASFA and I am wondering how receiving a grant would go toward the college.

    • Tamara Krause says:

      Most colleges require students to complete the FAFSA in order to receive any institutional financial aid, such as your full-tuition scholarship. In addition, if you qualify for federal aid, the additional funding could help cover any remaining costs you may incur (I noticed you did not say full-ride, so I am assuming your room and board, and other fees aren’t covered). If, however, your institutional aid meets your full cost of attendance, any additional federal aid you receive may decrease the amount offered by your college. You would still receive the same total amount of funding, but it would be a combination of funding from the government and your school. Your school could then take the money previously slated for you and use it to help other students who do not qualify for any federal assistance. Completing the FAFSA will not cause you to lose funding, per se; it just may reallocate where it’s coming from.

  3. Latisha Cooksey says:

    Hello , I am a college student , doing a research paper on financial aid. I would like to let you know that this article has been very supportive. Thank You.

  4. Solomon Johnson says:

    Hey! I could use some help finding some scholarships. I just moved into college today. (1st year). I am trying to find as much as I can on here. I am a musician. Are there any music/academic scholarships on here for College freshman?

  5. jinen says:

    hi tamara mam .. are there any colleges where i can get admission on the basis of ACT only

    • Tamara Krause says:

      Not that I’m aware of. Most colleges look at your GPA, test scores, admissions essay and other elements.

  6. Rachel says:

    My cousin received the Park Scholarship to North Carolina University. After he graduated, he went to Harvard.

    I hope I can received a great scholarship too.

  7. Petra says:

    Hello Tamara, my son is a great talent on the football field and an ok student. How can I get him a full ride scholarship?

    • Tamara Krause says:

      Hi Petra,

      I would not bank on a full-ride scholarship. These are few and far between, especially in sports. He’ll more than likely need to cover his expenses with a combination of grants, scholarships, work-study and loans. To reduce the amount of money he’ll need to borrow, encourage him to start applying for scholarships right now. If he is playing at the elite level, you’ll need to do everything you can to get the attention of college coaches, as this may increase his chances of being offered healthier scholarship awards. Social media is a great tool. Start a blog or website, post video clips to YouTube, and work with his high school coach to get his name out there.

  8. Jacqueline says:

    Hello, thank you for the great feedback to the above questions….very helpful! I signed in to get scholarship assistance at college options but I am led to other sites and sites where I could win scholarships daily. Are these genuine. My email is bombarded evey day

    • Tamara Krause says:

      I’m not sure what college options is, but you can be assured that every scholarship offered through our scholarship service is legitimate. We do not control the amount of emails you receive from outside providers, but you can typically ‘unsubscribe’ or ‘opt-out’ when you feel you are receiving too many emails. Check the bottom of the emails you receive for this option or contact the provider directly with the word ‘unsubscribe’ in your email subject line.

  9. Jacqueline Awe says:

    Do you know of any scholarships specifically for college students who are homeless or aged out of foster care?

    • Tamara Krause says:

      Hi Jacqueline. I am not aware of any that are specifically for homeless students, but some states do provide financial aid assistance to students who were in foster care for several years and aged out. Check with your state’s education website or Department of Children and Families to see what might be available.

  10. Azul says:

    Hi Tamara
    My daughter wants to mayor in music (Voice) and she wants to go directly university but we don’t have money what scholarships are available for her.

    • Tamara Krause says:

      Hi Azul. The majority of music scholarships are offered directly through the colleges, but there are some programs that are open to those pursuing this field. YoungArts offers up to $10,000 for students 15-18. It’s also a good idea to check out local competitions and contests. Don’t limit her scholarship hunting to strictly music scholarships, as she should be eligible for many open scholarship programs, too. Have her register for a free account with ScholarshipExperts.com and encourage her to apply to at least 5 to 10 scholarships per month.

  11. Marcus says:

    Hello Tamara,

    I was accepted into Texas Tech University, and I am waiting to hear back from The University of Texas at Austin and Baylor University. I am in the top 10% of my graduating class, scored an 1840 (1250 math+reading), and was named a National Hispanic Scholar. Can you please help?

  12. Arslan says:

    Hello, Tamara! I am a student of 11th grade. I want to study in America, but I have no funding from my family, that’s why I’d like to apply to the full-ride scholarship. I know, this financial aid is verey and very competitive……but I have no choice……Would like to get an advice from you!

    • Tamara Krause says:

      Hi Arslan. Full-ride scholarships are very rare, even for students in the United States. There are even fewer available to international students. The best thing to do is start contacting colleges that you are interested in attending and learn more about their available financial aid for international students. You should also check out http://www.iefa.org. It has many resources for students wishing to study outside their home countries.

  13. Jennifer says:

    Hi there!
    My daughter attends The University Of Alabama. We are from Long Island, NY Unfortunetely, we are not able to pay for our daughters college. She is taking out the loans and we are cosighning! UGHH $32,000 this year!
    Trying to get some ideas for her to apple for scholarships/grants that are attainable! Have you heard of sending a letter of hardship to the dean? We are grasping at straws! So scared for her after all the years of loans knowing that she will only have $ to pay back loans and nothing to live after she graduates college.


    Thanks you!


    • Tamara Krause says:

      Hi Jennifer. It’s doubtful that a letter to the dean will make any difference, as there are plenty of students in the same boat. I would encourage her to approach scholarships like a part-time job and spend at least 10 hours a week working on applications for any and everything she may be eligible to receive. She should also visit her financial aid office frequently to see what may be available on campus. I would encourage he to look into work-study opportunities, too. If she doesn’t want to take on the debt, it may be a good idea to start looking at in-state colleges where her tuition would drop significantly. She should never borrow more (total) than her expected first-year salary after she graduates college, if she wants to stay out of financial trouble in the future.

  14. Tom says:

    Tamara, My son has a 4.37 GPA Graduating with Honors. He is an Eagle Scout, a Member of three Orchestras, Editor for the award winning School Paper and received a Nation Merit Letter of commodation. On the PSAT he was in the top 2%. His ACT was a 31. He had perfect Scores in writing though. he has been accepted at every school he has applied to, and also accepted into all of their Honors programs, but only offered full Tuition scholarships. Is there no hope for a complete full ride?


    • Tamara Krause says:

      I would suggest looking at smaller, lesser known private schools, as these institutions would be more likely to offer him a full ride. Even then, it’s still very difficult to get a full-ride scholarship (less than 1% receive one). Generally, students who are both academically gifted and low-income receive the full-ride scholarships. If your family’s income is too high, this may be why he is only receiving full-tuition offers.

  15. Tom says:

    Tamara, Thanks for your response. We have looked at a mix of Sate and Private schools (Private schools do a more Holistic approach and there for, the stuff I mentioned above (and plus he blongs to three clubs to boot), would come more into play. Plus he helps teach a two year confirmation class. I don’t know what else he can do.
    We are middle class, but have tons of medical bills though, so we do not have any extra income.
    I am glad you mention that that only about 1% receive those complete rides because it seems like everyone knows a kid that is getting one and after what we have experienced, I was beginning to doubt it.
    Thanks again!

    • Tamara Krause says:

      My daughter is in the same boat. Just keep encouraging him to apply for private scholarships as much as possible. This $10,000 scholarship from Unigo.com would definitely help bring down his costs.

  16. Tom says:

    Thank You!

  17. Steve Goldman says:

    My son just took the ACT for the first time and received a 34 (36 in Science) – plans to go to become and engineer. He is also a straight A student with a 4.6 weighted GPA. He is a currently a Junior and continues to take all Honors and AP classes. What are the next steps to maximize his scholarship opportunities? Thank you.

    • Tamara Krause says:

      Hi Steve,

      Right now, he should be trying to apply to as many private scholarships as possible. He can find them using a free scholarship search, like http://www.scholarshipexperts.com. It’s also a good idea for him to start looking at smaller private college that may be willing to give him a full-tuition or full-ride scholarships based on his GPA (unweighted) and test scores. Please keep in mind that when colleges calculate GPA, it is only based on core classes and electives are not factored into the equation. Many will give him additional pts. based on the type of class taken (core), such as AP and IB (usually an additional 1 pt) or Honors (half a pt.). If he’s looking into elite colleges, your financial aid will be based on need and not academics. He may also want to look at the top-tier public universities in your state, as they may also offer substantial financial aid for his academic abilities, especially if he enters the Honors college at their institution. If he is recognized as a National Merit Semi-Finalist or Finalist next year (based on his PSAT), he’ll have additional scholarship opportunities, as well.

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