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

Man in business suit holding out a stack of $100 bills.

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They both sound pretty good, right? Oftentimes full-ride and full-tuition are used interchangeably, so their definitions have gotten a little muddled over the years. Let’s start with the more commonly known of the two: the full-ride scholarship.

Scholarship College Tuition Comparison


A full-ride scholarship is an award that covers the entire cost of college—including tuition, room and board, text books, school materials, and sometimes even living costs and study abroad fees. The details can change from scholarship to scholarship, but in essence the full-ride covers more than just tuition.

A full-ride scholarship can be awarded by the federal government, the colleges themselves, or by a private source (though those are rare). These are highly sought-after, highly competitive awards that are only given out to an incredibly small fraction of students—around 0.1%, in fact.


The difference is in the name: tuition. These scholarships cover the tuition of the college, not necessarily other fees like travel expenses, room and board, various student fees, or other costs. It varies scholarship to scholarship, of course, so some might cover other costs besides the tuition, but that is the main focus.

However, since full-tuition is sometimes used interchangeably with full-ride, you may find a full-tuition scholarship covering things like: tuition, room and board, textbooks, laptops, travel expenses, and more.

Like full-rides, full-tuition scholarships can be awarded by the government, colleges, or private sources (again, rare).

In Common

Both full-rides and full-tuition scholarships are extraordinarily hard to come by. Since they are largely merit-based, students often have high GPAs, class ranks, test scores, or have incredible athletic abilities or leadership qualities that make them highly coveted by schools.

That being said, go ahead and apply—but don’t stake your entire college financial plan on it! If you receive that full-ride / full-tuition, that’s awesome! If not, you should have a backup plan in place.

Financial Plan

Luckily, financial aid is abundant, even if full-rides aren’t. The federal government is the largest source of financial aid, so complete the FAFSA and find opportunities from them. Completing the FAFSA will also benefit you when searching for aid from the colleges themselves, as many require the FAFSA form to dole out award money. Even private scholarships often ask for the student to file the form.

EVERYONE should really file the FAFSA—even if you think you’re ineligible or you don’t think you’ll get anything, file the FAFSA anyway. You might be surprised.

In addition to that, scholarships are another great way for reducing the cost of college. While not every scholarship is going to award tuition-level money, smaller amounts stack up quickly and can be a huge relief on the financial strain. You can read up on our multitude of scholarship posts!

One last tip: When comparing college costs, don’t just look at the sticker price—the published price of attending a college—but rather the net price—the actual cost of attending, once financial aid is taken into consideration. The difference can be astounding, and you might discover that college is much more affordable than you previously thought.

With College Raptor’s free match tool, you can enter your financial information just once and discover your net price estimate for nearly every school in the country!

So while full-rides and full-tuition scholarships might be enticing, don’t stake all of your plans on earning one. Read up on other financial aid opportunities, and make more informed decisions!

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