How to Earn a Full Ride Scholarship

By Dana Hinders , last updated December 22, 2011

With the cost of higher education rising each year, high school students often find themselves wondering how to earn a full ride scholarship to the college of their choice. To start your search, look at financial aid material for various schools and search online for scholarship options. Remember, the type of college you want to attend will greatly influence your odds of earning a full ride scholarship. Also, read the fine print. Some scholarships will require you to perform a certain way while you’re attending college.

Most full ride scholarships are based heavily on academic merit. However, there may also be other criteria used to select award recipients such as participation in community service, recommendation letters from teachers, ACT or SAT scores, future professional goals, and financial need. Some programs, such as the Gates Millennium Scholars scholarship program, require that students be African American, Asian Pacific Islander American, Hispanic American, or American Indian/Alaska Native.
You can search for full ride scholarships by reviewing financial aid materials from the colleges you want to attend and by searching on online directories such as FastWeb and Your local public library may have printed scholarship directories available, but you will want to verify this information before you apply for an award. Scholarship program details change frequently and a printed handbook can become out of date very quickly.
When students manage to graduate from college without any student loan debt, this is usually because they've earned several different scholarships that provide enough combined assistance to pay for their tuition, books, and room and board. At most colleges and universities, the top scholarship programs provide for tuition expenses only. If you're interested in using scholarships to pay for your education, it's better to apply for several different awards that can be combined than to pin all your hopes on being one of the rare students offered a single full ride scholarship.
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