Competing for Full-Ride Scholarships
Updated 3/2/2019 – Updates in blue.
The majority of full-ride scholarships and full-tuition scholarships offered directly by colleges are competitive, meaning they aren’t automatically offered to all students meeting certain GPA and ACT/SAT criteria. On my Full Scholarship List, almost 880 of the current 1164 school-sponsored full tuition and full ride scholarships listed are competitive. So, how does a student have a chance competing for full-ride scholarships? There is no sure thing, no “absolutely how to win a scholarship tip.” If anyone tells you that there is, they are just trying to sell you something. However, there are some common sense, important steps that will increase your student’s chances.
Tips on Competing for Full-Ride Scholarships:
- Communication – The beauty of competing for full-ride scholarships offered by schools, instead of private scholarships is that the student has a chance to establish a relationship with the school first. The people reviewing scholarship applications may or may not be the same ones granting admissions, but applicants are building a personal file with the school. “Demonstrated interest” may go a long way in the scholarship process. This means the student should be in touch with the admissions office early and often to express his or her interest in the school and interest in any scholarships offered. A question like “What can I do to increase my chances for merit scholarships?” is a great one to start with. Many of the full-ride scholarships require admissions counselors to invite prospective students to compete. The more a counselor knows about a particular student and his or her interest in the school and the competition, the more likely that student will be invited (assuming he or she meets all qualifications) to compete for full-ride scholarships.
- Scholarship Qualifications – Your student will have a much better chance at winning full-ride scholarships, or any other scholarships, when he or she exceeds the basic scholarship qualifications. If the scholarship qualifications include a specific minimum ACT or SAT score, scores above the minimum will naturally look more impressive. If the scholarship qualifications include “demonstration of leadership skills,” the depth of experience will be much more important than the breadth. Many articles have been written regarding what college admissions offices look for in extracurricular activities. The consensus is quality over quantity. With leadership, the schools are looking for students who really made a difference. If your student doesn’t have a great defining experience to talk about, he or she may not be qualified for a full-ride scholarship looking for more than just a great GPA and test score. There will be a lot of students who meet or exceed basic scholarship qualifications. The students who stand out from the crowd will be the ones who win.
- Preparation – In researching full-ride scholarships for the Full Scholarship List, I found two ways students are competing for these scholarships. Some schools just use the admissions application or require a separate scholarship application and select the winners from there. For this type of competition, the student needs to nail the essay or personal statement and establish great communication with the school. If the school offers admissions interviews, even if they are optional, students interested in scholarships should schedule one. Other schools invite students to an in-person competition. This is the student’s chance to really stand out. Most in-person competitions require at least an interview and many also have a writing component. Your student should make the following preparations for in-person scholarship competitions:
- Know what to expect – if you didn’t get materials explaining what is involved in the competition, ask. Things to know include – time limit for essay writing and potential types of topics, how many people will be interviewing you, are they one candidate at a time interviews. You may not be given all the answers, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. It shows that you are really interested in doing a good job.
- Dress like you are going on an important job interview – neat and polished clothing and shoes, conservative hair and makeup, and well-manicured nails are in order for most colleges. A parent, counselor, teacher or other adult mentor should be able to help you look your best.
- Practice the art of essay writing – this is the time to put those five-paragraph essay skills from high school to practice. A proper intro paragraph with a good “hook,” well-formed transitions and a solid conclusion will be important. Practice writing on a variety of topics with a time limit.
- Practice interview skills – Read up on what makes a good interview, how to answer questions well and how to appear poised and professional. Do some mock interviewing with a parent, friend or mentor so you are ready for the real thing.
There are many full-ride scholarships out there and most of them are competitive. Don’t let your student shy away from these for fear of competing. Think of it like a really important job interview. At the very least, it will be great practice for similar opportunities your student will face in the future.
Top students all over the country will be competing for opportunities like the ones I have listed on my Full Scholarship List. If you don’t know how to find these opportunities, I have done the work for you by compiling 880 competitive full-ride scholarships and full-tuition scholarships, along with 281 additional school-sponsored full tuition and full ride scholarships on my list. I’m sure there are more out there and I am constantly adding new ones as I find them. If you don’t have a copy of the Full Scholarship List, you can use the link above to order your copy.
If you are interested in more information and statistics overall on who wins full ride merit scholarships, fill out the orange form that appears as you scroll below to receive your copy of my report, “Who Wins Full Ride Merit Scholarships? And How to Increase Your Student’s Chances“.