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What’s the Difference Between Full Tuition and Full Ride Scholarships?

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Full tuition vs. full ride – is there really a difference? Knowing exactly what these scholarships are can help you determine college affordability.


“There’s a difference between full tuition and full ride scholarships?”


At first glance the two terms may seem interchangeable: Tuition is what you pay in order to go to college, and if it’s covered, you have a full-ride scholarship, right? Not quite.


As Unigo warns, this may not always be true. Prospective students need to be careful when comparing scholarship offers, as the difference between a full-tuition and full-ride scholarship may cost you thousands of dollars. 

So, What’s the Difference Between a Full Ride and a Full Tuition Scholarship?

 A full-tuition scholarship covers the full cost of your tuition, but generally, it doesn’t cover any of a student’s other expenses. These fees could amount to thousands of dollars: housing costs, book costs, study abroad fees, and lab class fees. For example, the Deans’ Honors Scholarship at Tulane University covers a student’s full tuition and mandatory fees.


While the Deans’ Honors Scholarship covers all of a student’s tuition costs, it doesn’t cover the total cost of attending the university. It doesn’t cover fees that aren’t considered mandatory, like housing or meals. For the 2018-19 school year, Tulane’s most affordable housing option, a triple room, will cost $8,420 for the year. While this price is on par with housing costs at other private universities, it is a steep cost, especially if it’s one a family wasn’t expecting to pay.


A full-ride scholarship, on the other hand, attempts to make a student’s college experience as cost-free as possible. There’s no set equation for how much a full-ride scholarship will cover, but generally it covers a student’s tuition, housing, meals, fees, and any other costs students may encounter to attend the university.


For example, the University of Kentucky’s Otis A. Singletary Scholars program covers not only tuition and room and board, but also provides students with a yearly stipend of $1,500, an iPad, and $2,000 for a summer abroad experience. This scholarship offers a more comprehensive coverage of a student’s costs, including a stipend that could go toward food or other personal expenses, and coverage for an academic enrichment program. 

Should I Apply for a Full Ride or a Full Tuition Scholarship?

It can be hard to determine which scholarships are full ride and which are full tuition, but in general, both full-tuition and full-ride scholarships can come from universities themselves, government funding, or private programs. Both generally require similar application processes. Some are merit based, requiring certain grades and GPAs; some are athletic or arts based; and some require special applications and essays. Most are highly competitive and often require complex application processes.


The scholarship you really want is a full-ride scholarship. When looking for grants and scholarships, you want to be aware of key words like “total-cost scholarships” or “full-ride scholarships,” because those will offer you the most comprehensive cost coverage. A full-tuition scholarship is undoubtedly incredible and will greatly minimize your college expenses, but a full-ride scholarship will essentially make your college experience cost as close to $0 as possible.


However, not all full-ride scholarships are created equal, meaning that when receiving a full-ride scholarship, it’s usually not one cash sum amounting to every dollar you spend on a college education. Different scholarships are geared toward different students, and each is unique.


For example, the Stamps Family Charitable Foundation partners with universities across the country to provide merit-based scholarships. At the University of Chicago, Stamps Scholars receive full tuition, fees, and room and board coverage, as well as $10,000 of grant funding to be used throughout their four years.


The Regeneron Science Talent Search is geared toward accomplished young scientists, and it awards prizes to its top three finalists, with $200,000 awarded to the first prize winner. JP Morgan’s Thomas G. Labrecque Smart Start Program provides full tuition coverage, a stipend of $750 per year for expenses, and a paid internship with JP Morgan Chase.


It’s important to remember throughout your scholarship search that while many scholarships are merit based, this doesn’t mean you have to be at the top of your class in order to qualify. Furthermore, many schools offer full-ride and full-tuition scholarships that aren’t merit based at all, and are entirely based on your family’s demonstrated financial need. While scholarships are definitely worth applying for, they are not the only way to finance a college education.

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