What’s the Difference Between Getting 100% of Financial Need Covered and Getting a “Full Ride”?

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Parents and students alike are looking to make college more affordable. There are a variety of ways that schools and scholarship programs offer to cover you in a major way. Though it’s rare to solidify a free college education, many schools offer grand coverages.


In this piece, we want to break down the different terminologies you’ll hear during your search for great financial coverage and how to access these different opportunities.


My Schools Says They Cover 100% of Financial Need

This is a great deal! especially for those who know they will need a lot of financial aid to cover the costs of college.


Schools that promise 100% coverage of financial need for all students are saying that they -- the school -- will devise a plan to cover the whole cost of attending their institution. First they will determine how much your family is able to pay based on your completion of the FAFSA or CSS Profile. Whatever value remains when they subtract your family’s contribution from the cost of attendance will be your financial need.


When you get your financial aid package from the school, they will have itemized out how to cover your remaining financial need with scholarships, grants, government loans, and work study.


In theory, you won’t have to come up with money anything above what your family can afford. But that doesn’t mean it won’t cost anything. FAFSA is likely to determine that your family will have to pay something, unless your family net assets and income is particularly low. Also, sometimes families find that their expected family contribution is higher than they can actually afford. Read more if this is a problem you and your family are facing. Plus, schools may meet your need by offering federal loans -- meaning you’ll have to pay back the money over time.


Learn more about 100% financial need coverage and how it’s calculated and then check out this list of every school in the US offering 100% financial need coverage for all of their accepted students.


Is a Full-Ride Scholarship Really as Good as it Sounds?

Yes, the coveted full-ride scholarship is almost as good as it sounds. Full-ride scholarships try to make a student’s experience as cost-free as possible. There is no set dollar amount to make this happen, so schools will instead cover certain parts of the experience: no charge for tuition, room and board, books and supplies — for example.


Full-ride scholarships can come from a variety of sources, though very few are handed out every year. These scholarships are given to students with a strong academic record and who hit other requirements specific to the scholarship. Every scholarship is different and their requirements vary as well. Let’s look at some examples:


One college that offers full-ride scholarships is the University of Kentucky. Their Otis A. Singletary program has covered not only tuition and room and board in the past, but also provided students with a yearly stipend of $1,500, an iPad 2 and $2,000 for a summer abroad experience. The current requirements for this program is a high school GPA of 3.80 and a 33 ACT or 1490 SAT score.


The Western Golf Association is a private institution offering full-ride scholarships to academically excellent students who have caddying experience and demonstrate financial need. If you meet their requirements, the program covers tuition in full and room and board.


The US Department of Agriculture is an example of a federal agency offering a full-ride scholarship. Those that meet the requirements and are granted the 1890 scholarship will have guaranteed tuition and room and board coverage for all four years of college. Past recipients have also received full coverages of books and supplies and employment with the USDA directly following graduation.


You might also find some schools and programs that promise free tuition. To understand the difference between full-ride scholarships and free tuition, read this Edmit article.


The Major Differences

Getting either 100% financial need coverage or a full-ride scholarship is a great way to significantly cut down your cost of college.


The first option, though, means that you are likely to pay something out-of-pocket and might have to take out loans. Federal loans could be part of the financial package that helps cover your financial need. A full-ride scholarship will mean no out-of-pocket costs or the taking out of loans for at least the tuition and room and board part of your attendance. And you might be able to find other scholarships to cover the cost of books and supplies, etc.


Another difference is that 100% financial need coverage is guaranteed at many schools and requires no extra application processes outside of completing the FAFSA. If you have a demonstrated financial need and are an accepted student, you will get full coverage. Almost all full-ride scholarships, on the other hand, require a rigorous application process including strong academic scores, essays and other requirements. Some scholarships also expect a demonstrated financial need.


Getting a full-ride scholarship is better financially, but full financial need coverage is more common. Getting a full-ride scholarship takes a lot of effort, while getting 100% financial need coverage is just about applying to the right schools.  


Find the schools that you are interested in attending and see what institution-based, private or federal scholarships you can get to cover your costs. You can always get more than one scholarship to pay for school.

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