I was listening to a financial call-in program the other day and the topic of how a lady 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. I laughed as I thought about how unrealistic this was. Then I thought about how easy it might be to get sucked into believing that. The conversation didn’t go into any specifics about her child, 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, spending money, an internship, and/or a laptop computer. More prevalent would be the “full tuition” scholarships. These technically wouldn’t count as “full-ride,” but I guess if your student is going to live at home and commute to a school providing a full tuition scholarship, it would be pretty much the same.
So how many four-year full-ride scholarships are out there? In my research, I found 4 types of full-ride scholarships:
- Automatic full ride provided by the college based on ACT/SAT score and GPA – through lists available online, I found only 19 schools in the country that do this. There were 16 more that only offered full tuition. There could be more schools out there that haven’t made it to any lists.
- Automatic full ride provided by the college for being a national merit finalist or semi-finalist – I found 23 schools offering a full ride and an additional 45 offering full tuition (some also throw in extra money for expenses or books)
- 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) – I found at least 48 schools that offered competitive full rides and an additional 38 schools that offered competitive full-tuition scholarships. I suspect that this number is low and that there are many other schools out there that offer a small number of these each year to attract the brightest students. These vary a lot with respect to the criteria used. 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.
- 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 score 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. 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.
I am working on a spreadsheet compiling all of the schools offering full-ride and full-tuition scholarships in the categories above. It is a pretty large undertaking! I will post it on my site when it is complete.