Students, parents and sometimes even colleges and universities often informally refer to "full scholarships" or "full rides" to college or graduate school. These terms essentially always refer to grants that cover all of a student's tuition. In some cases, but not always, they also refer to programs that will pay for all of a student's living expenses. It's important to read the fine print and know what's actually included in a full scholarship when you're planning for school.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
A full scholarship can mean different things. It may mean that the institute of higher learning is paying for your tuition only, or it may mean the school is paying for your tuition, room and board and books.
College tuition can cost thousands of dollars, even at state schools and community colleges. A full-tuition scholarship logically refers to a program that pays for all of a student's tuition. It can be issued by the school itself or by an outside organization, like a nonprofit trying to help people attend school.
In some cases, a scholarship that pays tuition up to a certain dollar amount may effectively become a full-tuition scholarship if the student owes less than that in tuition. In these cases, it may be possible to apply the scholarship funds to other expenses, like room and board, textbooks, travel costs or miscellaneous supplies.
Scholarships often have certain conditions that students must meet in order to apply and in order to keep having their tuition paid as they attend school. For instance, a student might have to participate in an athletic program, major in one of a certain group of fields (like the sciences) or maintain a particular grade point average. Scholarships linked to a particular school generally will not transfer to another school.
Scholarships That Cover Everything
Even with tuition covered, students still naturally have expenses while attending college. They generally have to buy textbooks and other materials, like computers or art supplies, and they have to eat, sleep somewhere and often travel to and from college around breaks.
Some scholarships will cover tuition plus additional expenses, potentially even providing students stipends for miscellaneous expenses or particular purposes, such as conducting summer research. These scholarships are often called "full scholarships" or "full-ride scholarships," but these terms can also be used informally to refer to scholarships that only cover tuition or tuition plus a limited set of other expenses.
Since the terms of a scholarship can affect a student's need to work or take out loans and can even shape whether a student can realistically attend a particular school at all, it's vitally important to nail down the terms of a scholarship as quickly as possible when making decisions about what and where to study.
If something about a scholarship seems unclear, you should be able to ask the organization issuing it to explain exactly how it works.
- College Raptor: What’s the Difference Between a Full-Ride and a Full-Tuition Scholarship?
- Scholarships.com: Full Tuition Scholarship
- Above the Law: When A Full Ride Is Half-Empty
- College Board BigFuture: College Costs: FAQs
- NCAA: Scholarships
- PrepScholar: 85 Colleges With Full-Ride Scholarships
- Scholarship America: Program Information
- Bishop State: Scholarship Listing Requirements
Steven Melendez is an independent journalist with a background in technology and business. He has written for a variety of business publications including Fast Company, the Wall Street Journal, Innovation Leader and Ad Age. He was awarded the Knight Foundation scholarship to Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.