Difference Between Full-Ride and Full Tuition Scholarships

Difference Between Full-Ride and Full Tuition Scholarships
Imed Bouchrika, Phd by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

Throughout the years, college in America has become more expensive. However, its importance in securing a job, developing a career, and achieving financial security has not wavered. In fact, pursuing a degree in higher education has become more critical as the job market is more competitive, with employers looking for skilled professionals with credentials that match their requirements.

Luckily, as of late, college scholarships have been more open and accessible than ever. With grantors slated across different universities, private companies, and the federal government, students nowadays can explore multiple scholarship resources that can help alleviate their financial concerns.

So, should you wish to make significant savings, there are two great awards to aim for: The full-ride scholarship and the full-tuition scholarship. Below you will learn how different and similar the two scholarship types are. Armed with a fundamental knowledge of scholarships, you should be able to make an informed decision when selecting the right program, a list of which is also presented below.

Table of Contents

Even as scholarship offers abound, the costs of completing a university degree tend to intimidate prospective students from pursuing higher education. As noted by the 2021 College Savings & Student Debt Study, 49% of students and parents have agreed that college debt plays a big role in selecting, financing—and, in some cases—limiting one’s tertiary schooling.

Further, scholarships are not enough to curb the student debt crisis even among recipients, as one Higher Education, Politics & Economics study found out. Borg et al (2021) reported, “Our model predicts that Florida Bright Futures (FBF) recipients accumulate higher debt, on average than similar students who did not receive the award.” The authors, however, noted that debt reduction was evident among poorer households. “For students from the lowest-income households and with the highest levels of debt, the FBF scholarship award does reduce the overall amount of debt they accumulate. This means that FBF scholarship recipients are at no significant advantage relative to non-scholarship recipients when it comes to student debt accumulation for students from high-income households. However, in the specific case of low-income students with the highest debt levels, they do receive significant debt relief from their FBF scholarships.”

Full Ride vs. Full Tuition Scholarship

Although the terms full-ride vs full-tuition scholarships are easily interchangeable, each type of scholarship presents a unique case that can significantly reduce your university expenses.

What is a Full-Ride Scholarship?

A full-ride scholarship covers your entire college costs, such as tuition fees, room and board, class materials, transportation, and even study-abroad programs.

What is a Full-Tuition Scholarship?

A full-tuition scholarship is traditional in the sense that it only covers your tuition fee. In this case, students should still save for any additional expenses in the coming years.

Source: College Board

What They Have in Common


Both full-ride and full-tuition scholarships share the common goal of financially supporting university students, as this has been a growing concern. Fidelity Investment’s survey notes that “4 in 10 high-school students rated cost as the ‘most important’ factor in choosing a college,” provided that there are many hidden expenses that exceed a college’s sticker price, (US News, 2021).

These scholarships ultimately come in handy when planning for the future as they enable you to expand your options, weigh your costs, and ultimately, pursue your passions with less financial inhibition.

Typical Recipients

Full-ride and full-tuition scholarships generally cater to any student of higher education, regardless if one is an incoming freshman, a transfer student, taking your master’s/PhD, or even an international student.

However, keep in mind that each of these scholarships, although abundant, cater to a specific student demographic, so be sure to check if you’re eligible to apply. Likewise, since sponsors only eye the “cream of the crop,” the process is highly competitive—thus, you must consider where, why, and how well you qualify for these awards.

Typical Grantors

Both are generally sponsored by colleges/universities, private institutions, and the federal government, each conducting their own application and selection process. These can range from academics, athletics, talent/s, community service, heritage, financial aid, and the like.


Full-ride and full-tuition scholarships are highly prestigious, as they don’t simply cover some costs (unlike their partial counterparts) but all—at least, to the extent of your full tuition. In this sense, both need a lot of qualification on your part, and require the following material during application:

  • Test Scores: Most merit-based scholarships require high PSAT, SAT, and/or ACT scores, alongside a remarkable GPA. (Note: Cut-offs vary per scholarship.)
  • List of Accomplishments: Apart from academics, scholarship grantors can also look into your talent/s, community involvement, and other extracurricular activities.
  • Writing: Essays make up the bulk of applications, for this is where sponsors can get to know you better. Aim to stand out by demonstrating your skills, achievements, and overall need for financial support.
  • Recommendation Letters: Word from your teachers, mentors, community leaders, or other prominent figures (in a related industry) can further detail why you deserve a scholarship.
  • Interview: In some cases, grantors might interview you to gain a more personal look into your character.

most important factor in choosing a college

The Difference Between Full-Ride and Full-Tuition Scholarships

At a time when tuition fees are continually increasing, these two types of scholarships aim to deliver as much financial aid to as many students they can reach—and it’s highly recommended that you apply each year. What is considered a full-ride scholarship simply boils down to the inclusion of non-tuition costs.

However, as you work towards these, it is best that you also understand the difference between full-ride and full-tuition scholarships, in order to figure out which suits your needs the best.


Full-ride scholarships cover all university expenses aside from tuition fees, such as accommodation, meals, and transportation. A good example is the USDA 1890 National Scholars’ Program, a four-year, full-ride scholarship designed to cover the recipient’s full tuition, room and board, study materials, and other fees.

Meanwhile, full-tuition scholarships cater chiefly to yearly tuition (with occasional benefits), like JP Morgan Chase’s Thomas G. Labreque Smart Start Program, which is a four-year, full-tuition scholarship that mainly covers full tuition and a paid internship.

Scholarship Amount

Full-ride scholarships have a comparatively higher cost, as the awarded amount averages your full tuition, plus [your] additional expenses. Just how much money is a full-ride scholarship? It depends on the program offer. The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation College Scholarship, for one, awards recipients $55,000/year while topping up for books, living costs, and college fees.

Meanwhile, full-tuition scholarships only pay for what colleges charge for total semesters. In this case, you must save up for the remaining fees. While there are a lot of providers, these tend to come from universities (and supporting communities) themselves, as the award is specific to the sponsor’s full tuition. For instance, the one-year Hyundai Scholarship caters only to master’s degree students from George Washington University.


Full-tuition scholarships often measure the merits of aspiring applicants across different fields. These are given in order to cultivate one’s skills in college, whether the recipient has expressed financial need or not. Eligibility may come from one’s:

  • Academics. Students who demonstrate academic excellence through their unweighted GPA, standardized testing, or other extracurriculars.
  • Talent. Students who master certain disciplines like art, science, and business. Sometimes, these recipients are granted simultaneous internships.
  • Athletics. Students who excel in certain sports and can contribute to the university/community’s varsity team.
  • Service. Students who demonstrate great leadership skills, exemplary character, and community involvement.

On the other hand, full-ride scholarships mainly consider a student’s ability and means to study, as it is the rarer and more expensive option:

  • State-Sponsored. Out of concern and proximity, public universities tend to provide more full-ride scholarships.
  • Federal Government. In the case of ROTC scholarships, the government can sponsor a student’s entire college education, provided that they serve the government after.
  • Financial Aid. Students with lower income can qualify for aid-based scholarships. These can be granted by both public and private institutes.

Note that the interests of grantors can intersect both scholarships.

Difficulty of Access

Overall, scholarships are hard to come by, as recent figures show that only 0.2% of students are awarded $25,000 or more in scholarships each year (Unigo, 2021). Thus, considering that full-ride and full-tuition scholarships are the best of the best, the stakes are even higher.

Granting more financial support, full-ride scholarships only award 0.1% of applicants (College Raptor, 2021); while full-tuition scholarships only award 1.5% (Think Impact, 2020).

However, although the stakes are high, both scholarships are highly rewarding in the long run. A study by CollegeBoard (2020) estimates that:

  • A public, four-year education (in-state) costs an average of $26,800/year
  • A private, four-year education costs an average of $54,800/year

Therefore, it would be wise to apply for either one as this would ease your calculation of tuition, living expenses, and other fees throughout your stay.

The bottom line is that cost coverage primarily differentiates full-ride from full-tuition scholarships, as the former would provide more financial aid than the latter.

Granted, when selecting from the two, it’s all a matter of why you’ll need one, and how [it] can ease your four-year journey.

share of students awarded scholarships worth $25,000

Most Prestigious Full-Ride Scholarships

Coolidge Scholarship

  • Grantor: Calvin Coolidge Foundation
  • Description: The Coolidge Scholarship awards current high school juniors by covering their full tuition and costs of attendance for four years at any American university.

Cameron Impact Scholarship

  • Grantor: Bryce Cameron Education Foundation
  • Description: The Cameron Impact Scholarship is merit-based, awarding 10-15 high school students with full tuition and covering their costs of attendance at any American university. Grants range between $20,000-$50,000/year.

Gates Scholarship

  • Grantor: The Gates Scholarship
  • Description: The Gates Scholarship funds 300 high-school seniors their full tuition and costs of attendance. Applicants must come from at least one of the following ethnicities to be eligible: African-American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian & Pacific Islander American, and/or Hispanic American.

Questbridge National College Match

  • Grantor: QuestBridge
  • Description: The Questbridge National College Match supplies low-income high-school seniors with full tuition and financial assistance for four years [at] eligible partner universities. Rewards are worth up to $200,000.

Jack Kent Cooke Foundation College Scholarship

  • Grantor: Jack Kent Cooke Foundation
  • Description: The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation College awards 80-60 low-income, high-school seniors with full tuition and coverage at any four-year accredited undergraduate school. Scholarships cover $55,000/year over four years.

USDA 1890 National Scholars Program

  • Grantor: U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • Description: The USDA 1890 National Scholars Program caters to students of agriculture (or any related field) within Historically Black Land-Grant Universities. This covers their full tuition and costs of attendance per renewal, provided that recipients are required to work one year in the USDA for each scholarship term
    (eg. 4 scholarships = 4 years of work).

ROTC Scholarships

  • Grantor: U.S. Army
  • Description: ROTC scholarships offer high-school seniors, college students, or active enlisted Soldiers from participating universities full tuition, a $420/month stipend, and other benefits, given the applicant commits to an eight-year service with the Army, Army Reserve, or Army National Guard.

SMART (Science, Mathematics & Research for Transformation) Scholarship

  • Grantor: Department of Defense
  • Description: The SMART Scholarship provides eligible STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) majors with full tuition, financial assistance, a $1,000 book allowance, a paid internship, and a post-graduation job placement.

The Stephen Joel Trachtenberg (SJT) Scholarship Program

  • Grantor: George Washington University
  • Description: The SJT Scholarship grants D.C.-resident, high-school seniors with a full, four-year tuition and covered costs of attendance at the university. Rewards are $55,230/year and can be renewed annually.

Robertsons Scholars Leadership Program

  • Grantor:  Robertson Scholars Leadership Program
  • Description: The Robertsons Scholars Leadership Program targets high-school seniors planning to attend Duke University or the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This covers full tuition and costs of attendance, supplying up to $100,000 for students.

Source: Statista

List of Full-Tuition Scholarships

Thomas G. Labrecque Smart Start Program

  • Grantor: JP Morgan Chase Careers
  • Description: The Smart Start Scholarship awards 10 undergraduates from eligible New York City campuses with full tuition and a paid internship, renewable for four years. Applicants must be studying business, communication, computer science, engineering, liberal arts, or social science.

Microsoft Tuition Scholarship

  • Grantor: Microsoft
  • Description: The merit-based, Microsoft Tuition Scholarship provides undergraduate students from STEM, computer science, and computer engineering with full and partial scholarships for one year. Applicants should also apply for a Microsoft internship.

5 Strong Scholarship

  • Grantor: 5 Strong Scholars
  • Description: The 5 Strong Scholarship caters to high school seniors from Metro Atlanta, who are interested in attending historically black universities. The scholarship covers $40,000, provided the recipient attends the 5 Strong College Prep sessions (bi-monthly).

Chicago Police and Fire Scholarship

  • Grantor: University of Chicago
  • Description: The scholarship is for children of active firefighters, University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) police officers, and police officers in Chicago City, covering their full tuition for four years of college.

Chick Evans Scholarship for Caddies

  • Grantor: Evans Scholars Program
  • Description: The Chick Evans Scholarship Program covers high school seniors who qualify as high-achieving caddies with full tuition and housing.

Hyundai Scholarship

  • Grantor: Hyundai Motors
  • Description: The Hyundai Scholarship is for South Korean or U.S. citizens pursuing their Master’s or Ph.D. at the George Washington University in the School of Engineering and Applied Science/School of Business. This covers their full tuition of $20,000 for one year, given that applicants demonstrate commitment and contribution to South Korea.

Yale University Scholarships

  • Description: Yale Unversity offers need-based scholarships to undergraduate, graduate, and Ph.D. students, averaging $50,000/year for domestic awardees and $70,000/year for international awardees.

Harvard University Scholarships

  • Description: Harvard University provides undergraduates with need-based scholarships, and graduates with merit-based scholarships, such as teaching or research assistantships.

Emory University Scholarships

  • Description: Emory University Scholarships supports undergraduates with full tuition and enrichment stipends.

University of Pittsburgh Scholarships

  • Description: University of Pittsburgh Scholarships are merit-based, providing undergraduates with $2,000 to full tuition a year, sourced from university and/or private organizations.

Quick Tips to Win a Scholarship

Do your Research

Scholarships are highly desired, so it’s best that you expand your options and apply for as many as you’re eligible for. To make the right match, you may look into your:

  • Heritage
  • Gender
  • Personal Traits and Interests
  • Achievements
  • Career Goals

Develop Your Skills

As scholarships are exclusively given to the best, it’s important that you challenge yourself to keep achieving—be it through academics, talents, athletics, or social involvement.

Grantors want to see how their sponsorship brings you to success. Therefore, you must prove that you deserve their support.

You may opt to get advanced course loads, gain more industry experience, or serve in the community to further your qualifications.


Given their many requirements—and often, limited application time frame—it’s best to allot time to compile the following documents:

  • Your Current School’s Information
  • Recent Transcripts (High-school and/or College)
  • Letter/s of recommendation
  • Application Essay/s
  • FAFSA and SAR Report
  • Student Loan Lender Information (if applicable)
  • Parents’ Recent Federal Tax Return (for dependents)

These aside, you may also want to learn how to write a scholarship cover letter to make your application stand out. Remember: The earlier you prepare, the more sound your decisions will be.

Build Connections

Your social character is valued greatly by grantors, so it’s best to start building bridges within your current school, community, and industry of interest. Who knows, with your involvement, they might even put in a good word for you!

Be Resourceful

In either case, there is always competition—so don’t stake your college plans entirely by these applications. It’s recommended that you file for The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), as well as other partial scholarships (between big and small amounts), in order to subtract as much as possible from your tuition.

Which should you choose?

Full-ride vs. full-tuition, one message is clear: Full-ride scholarships definitely take the cake, when it comes to completely reducing college costs. If you are entering an expensive university or are from a low-income background, it’s best to aim for this kind of coverage.

However, as these are highly selective and rare—and if it’s your skills you wish to support, as opposed to financial need—applying for a full-tuition scholarship can still minimize costs and make for a smooth-sailing college experience.

But remember: Not all scholarships are made equal, even between full-ride and full-tuition, so you must carefully evaluate each offering and see which will suit your case the best.



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  2. Barge, M. (2021). 12 Amazing Full-Ride Scholarships You Can Win. PrepScholar. https://blog.prepscholar.com/full-ride-scholarships-you-can-win
  3. Fidelity Investments. (2021). 2021 College Savings & Student Debt Study. Fidelity Management & Research Limited Liability Company (FMR LLC). https://www.fidelity.com/bin-public/060_www_fidelity_com/documents/about-fidelity/fidelity-college-savings-student-debt-study-fact-sheet.pdf
  4. French, K. (). What’s the Difference Between Full Tuition and Full Ride Scholarships? Edmit.me. https://www.edmit.me/blog/whats-the-difference-between-full-tuition-and-full-ride-scholarships
  5. Powell, F., Kerr, M., and Wood, S. (2021). See the Average College Tuition in 2021-2022. U.S. News.https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/paying-for-college/articles/paying-for-college-infographic
  6. Randolph, K. (2021). 9 Places to Look for Full Ride Scholarships. FastWeb. https://www.fastweb.com/college-scholarships/articles/the-9-places-to-look-for-full-ride-scholarships
  7. Scholly. (2020). 15 Expert Tips on How to Win College Scholarships [2021 Edition]. https://myscholly.com/how-to-win-college-scholarships/
  8. ThinkImpact. (2020). Scholarship Statistics. https://www.thinkimpact.com/scholarship-statistics/
  9. CollegeRaptor. https://www.collegeraptor.com/paying-for-college/articles/questions-answers/whats-difference-full-ride-full-tuition-scholarship/
  10. Unigo. (2021). Full Ride Scholarships. https://www.unigo.com/scholarships/by-type/full-ride-scholarships

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