Wanting to get your student a free college education? Who doesn’t! The fact is, there are still colleges in the United States that offer full-ride merit-based scholarships to attract students with high ACT or SAT scores. Unfortunately, the number of schools offering these scholarships seems to be shrinking over the past several years, so it takes some work to find the ones that still do. 

There is hope! I have a few tips on how to get a full-ride scholarship with the right ACT or SAT score. 


What ACT or SAT Scores Automatically Win Your Student a Full Ride

To make it easier for parents and their incoming college students, I have maintained a database of full-ride scholarships offered by colleges since 2014. (If you’d like the full list, be sure to create your MyCAP account now to access the database and more!)

 Here are my latest findings around ACT and SAT scores that can automatically win your student a full ride. By automatically, I mean there is no separate application to complete or competition to get these funds. All students with a particular ACT/SAT score (details below) will receive the scholarship. 

Note: Usually, there is a GPA component as well, so a student must have an ACT/SAT score and a high GPA.

For example, the University of Alabama’s Presidential Elite scholarship offers the full cost of tuition for four years, plus additional funds, for students with a 4.0 GPA and a 36 ACT score regardless of whether you’re in-state or out-of-state. This is an amazing offering for such a large and popular university. I wish more offered something like this, but the matter of the fact is, they don’t. 

Some schools seem to offer more merit scholarships to out-of-state students. This is done to help promote school diversity and create a well-rounded student body. So if your student’s dream in-state school doesn’t offer a full-ride, try looking at other out-of-state options. For more information on schools with flexible out-of-state merit scholarships, click here. 

Other times, merit aid is only offered to in-state students or, alternatively, in-state students have a more robust offering of merit aid opportunities. Again, MyCAP shows you what options might be available so you know how to get a full-ride scholarship whether your student will be in-state or out-of-state.

Overall, my research so far has been surprising in that there are a few schools that will offer full-tuition scholarships starting in the 22 – 25 ACT range, but most full-ride scholarships require a 28 ACT or higher. These scholarships are typically found at lesser known public campuses in a state but can offer a great opportunity for students to have a fully funded education.


How to Get a Full-Ride Scholarship Without High Test Scores 

Does your student not qualify for a full-ride scholarship based on their grades and test scores? That’s okay! There are several other avenues to pursue before throwing in the towel. Let’s look at ways you and your college-bound student can pave the most affordable path to college:

  1. Research schools that reward on a merit basis. There are many colleges and universities out there that offer merit-based scholarships and grants. Often, these schools use a “grid system” to determine what combination of GPA and/or test scores will earn students a scholarship. However, not all schools offer this type of merit-based financial aid! It’s important to know which schools have merit-based scholarships and grants available, and plan your applications accordingly.
  2. Don’t ignore smaller, lesser-known schools. Even if they can’t get the full cost of college covered at one of their “dream schools,” there are many other schools in the country that are actively trying to attract top-of-the-class students — and they reward them for their hard work with scholarships and grants! Research schools based on degree programs your student is interested in, and try to keep an open mind when it comes to exploring schools that you may not have heard about before.
  3. Go private! Not all scholarships come from the schools themselves. Use a tool like MyCAP (more info on this below)  to research private scholarships, track deadlines, and get serious about applying.
  4. Understand the actual cost of colleges on your “to apply” list. Although this isn’t exactly a way to “increase” financial aid, it’s a critical step when trying to reduce the cost of college for your college-bound junior or senior. The truth is that the “sticker price” that schools advertise often isn’t an accurate representation of what the cost of attendance will be for four (or five, or six — depending on when your student graduates) years. By leveraging MyCAP, you can estimate the actual cost of attending different colleges, what your expected family contribution will be, and whether there is financial aid (merit-based or otherwise) available for your student.
  5. Get specific. If a student knows what they want to do when they go to college, they open themselves up to a world of career or degree-specific scholarship programs. These programs might be offered through the colleges themselves, or through private foundations that want to support students going into a specific career field. For example, there are many scholarship programs for STEM industries, nursing, education, etc. This can also help your student narrow their college search — if certain schools have an excellent program in the degree they’re interested in, and offer financial aid for those specific students, that may be a more affordable school that provides an excellent education.


To review, my top tips for how to get a full-ride scholarship with your ACT or SAT score, are:

  1. Sign up for MyCAP to access full-ride scholarship options available to your student (a database I’ve been keeping since 2014).
  2. Shoot for at least a 28 on the ACT or above 1300 on the SAT. Some scholarships allow for flexibility, so check the particular scholarship, but these numbers generally give you the most options. 
  3. Encourage your student to also pursue a high GPA or even 4.0, especially their senior year.
  4. Entertain smaller schools, maybe less well-known, that have the same degree program your child is looking for. This expands opportunity for financial aid and scholarships larger universities can’t offer. 

Don’t Miss Your Opportunity to Save on Your Student’s Tuition with MyCAP

Our team at MyCAP has compiled a list of colleges and universities that offer scholarships based on testing scores and we updated it regularly, so you can learn how to get a full-ride scholarship all in one place. We also have tuition calculators and other great resources to help the financial transition to college go smoothly. To learn more, sign up for your free MyCAP account by clicking here.