What Does a Full Scholarship Mean?

A full scholarship helps pay for the road to graduation

A full scholarship helps pay for the road to graduation

In the face of rising education costs, recent college graduates have more debt than ever before. According to the Institute for College Access & Success' Project on Student Debt, the average debt of college graduates topped $25,000 in late 2011 and the rising cost of higher education shows little sign of slowing. Scholarships are awards of money given to students to help them finance higher education. A "full scholarship" or "full-ride scholarship" is an award that pays for the full amount of a student's tuition.

Full Scholarship Basics

Tuition makes up the lion's share of college expenses for most students. According to data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics in its 2011 Digest of Education Statistics, the average tuition at a four-year public school was $15,014 annually in 2010. Private school tuition averaged $32,790. A full scholarship is a gift made by a school or an outside organization that pays for all the student's tuition for each year the student is in school. For example, a full scholarship given to a student attending a four-year college typically covers four years of tuition. Full scholarships may also include money to help a student pay for other school-related expenses like room, board and books.

School Scholarships

Full scholarships are often granted by institutions of higher education themselves as a means of attracting top students. Full-ride scholarships are also commonly offered to skilled high school athletes to recruit them into college sports programs. Students on full scholarships for academic or athletic ability may have to meet certain performance requirements to keep their awards throughout all four years of college. For instance, a student on a full academic scholarship might be required to maintain a certain minimum grade point average to receive the scholarship money each year.

Private Scholarships

Private organizations like corporations and charities sometimes offer scholarship awards to students. Landing a private scholarship often requires participation in an essay contest or meeting certain criteria set by the award-giving organization, such as coming from a low-income family. While small private scholarships are plentiful, few private organizations offer full scholarships. In fact, US News and World Report says that fewer than 250 private scholarships exist that provide enough money to pay for all college costs.


The term "full scholarship" can be misleading because it implies that the student doesn't have to pay anything for college. Even if a full scholarship covers tuition, room, board and books, students may still pay certain expense out of pocket. For instance, scholarships may not cover required student fees, parking fees, electronics needed for class or travel expenses. A 2010 study by Ithaca College and the National College Players Association indicated that Division I athletes on full scholarships still pay $2,951 a year on average in school-related expenses.


About the Author

Gregory Hamel has been a writer since September 2008 and has also authored three novels. He has a Bachelor of Arts in economics from St. Olaf College. Hamel maintains a blog focused on massive open online courses and computer programming.

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