I was listening to a financial call-in program the other day and the topic of how a mom was going to pay for her kid’s college came up.  She said, “I’m hoping she will get a scholarship.” That was it. She had no money saved, the daughter was in high school and she was counting on a scholarship. I inferred that she meant a “full-ride scholarship” since it didn’t sound like she had any room in her budget to be paying for college through cash flow.

At first, I laughed as I thought about how unrealistic this was, but I know how easy it might be to get sucked into believing that.  The conversation didn’t go into any specifics about her children, like test scores or grades.  Maybe the girl was a genius, I don’t know, but I remembered my own delusion.

While I never thought my oldest daughter was going to get a full ride for four years of college, I did think she was special because she had a great GPA and a 30+ ACT as well as lots of volunteer hours and extra-curricular activities. Early on in my college search, I was sure this would get her lots of merit scholarship offers. After I started reading articles and posts online, I found out lots of other students had statistics that were at least as impressive as hers, and there were also the National Merit Finalists. I started thinking, wow, there is going to be a lot of competition for these scholarships! This proved to be true.

At one school, my daughter was invited to compete, along with almost 400 other high-flying students, for 20 scholarships ranging from three-quarters of the tuition cost to full tuition plus room and board. She was not one of the twenty winners and, in this case, she was relieved because she really didn’t want to go to that school anyway.

A true “full-ride” scholarship consists of tuition plus room and board. Some even go farther and throw in books, transportation costs, spending money, an internship, and more. More prevalent would be the “full tuition” scholarships.  

What Type of Full Ride Scholarships Exist?

So how many true four-year full-ride scholarships are out there? In my research, I found 4 types of full-ride scholarships:

  1. Automatic or semi-automatic full ride provided by the college based on ACT/SAT score and GPAwe have 14 schools in our database that offer this.
  2. Automatic full ride provided by the college for being a national merit finalist or semi-finalistwe have 33 schools in our database that offer this.
  3. Competitive full ride provided by the college (either students come to the school for a special competition or the admissions office selects students to receive these based on their application materials)  – we have 214 schools in our database that offer this. Some require national merit finalist or semi-finalist status to compete, some require certain GPA and ACT/SAT scores, some require a separate application with an essay, and others pre-qualify students with grades and test scores, but require them to interview and/or write an essay for the final selection.
  4. Private full ride provided through a corporate or foundational scholarship program – There are at least four well-known in this category:  Stamps Foundation, Gates Millenium Scholarship, Chick Evans Caddie Scholarships and QuestBridge National College Match.

Of the schools that used ACT/SAT scores as a determining factor for a scholarship or a competition, 32 was the most common low-end score accepted.  Some lesser-known state schools will accept below this.  Several Alabama state schools offer full tuition down to a 28 ACT. 

Navigating The Scholarship Landscape

The really great automatic scholarships are not coming from colleges near the top of any “best colleges” ranking lists. They are coming from schools that desperately want to attract top students to their campuses.

The good news is that exploring smaller schools that are lesser-known doesn’t necessarily mean sacrificing the quality of education! In fact, many smaller colleges provide a much more engaging student experience with smaller class sizes, and more opportunities for support both during college and beyond when your student’s career search begins.

If you’re looking for full-ride scholarships or putting together a group of smaller private scholarships to help your child fund the cost of college, MyCAP can help.

Leverage our unique database to search for scholarships that meet your student’s unique criteria to cut your search time in half! What’s more, you and your college-bound student can look at what schools are out there that have an estimated cost of attendance (and an estimated expected family contribution) that fits into your budget. Our database can help you explore schools nationwide — some that you may never have even heard of or considered before! Sign up for free by clicking here.