The Scholarship System: 6 Steps on How to Win College Scholarships and Secure Financial Aid

Why a Full Ride Scholarship Requires Much More than Free College Tuition

When people hear the term “full ride scholarship” or a “free ride” in relation to a college education, they often picture having everything handled. But a full ride scholarship doesn’t necessarily make college free. Often, these arrangements only handle a part of the college experience. And your child is on the hook for the rest.

So, what exactly does a full ride scholarship from an institution actually cover? And what will your student be responsible for beyond what is provided to truly make college free? While the answer varies depending on the arrangement, here is a review of the most typical expenses that can be covered as well as those that fall outside of the box.

Tuition and Certain Fees

In most cases, a full ride scholarship includes tuition and tuition only. It can also include certain fees, like lab fees, though that isn’t always the case. Often, tuition is the largest single expense your student will face, so it is certainly something to smile about.

Still, tuition was only half of my total cost of attendance my freshman year (I will talk about the other expenses in just a minute.)

Even though these funds don’t have to be repaid, it is important to note that they could come with a different kind of obligation. For example, a full ride based on a sports scholarship for the institution does require your student meet certain performance standards, both on the field and off. Failing to meet these requirements could mean losing the full ride scholarship, leaving tuition squarely on their shoulders as they finish their degree.

Non-sport related institutional scholarships can come with obligations too. It could make a certain GPA mandatory, as well as participation in certain activities outside of those associated with their required course work.

In essence, your child could be trading a form of “work” for tuition. While this isn’t a bad deal at all, it is important to understand how it works. Additionally, there are still a lot more expenses that need to be covered to actually make their college free.

Ultimately, when many people say they received a “full ride scholarship” from a university, you may be surprised to know that they actually mean they had tuition completely covered. Nearly all students who receive a “free ride” from an institution need to cover some sort of expenses on their own.

Let’s talk about those other expenses:

Room and Board

If there is anything included in a full ride scholarship in addition to tuition, room and board (or housing and food)  are the next most common. And these expenses combined can exceed the cost of tuition, in some cases.

When room and board are included, this typically means your child will be assigned to a dorm room and will be given access to a meal plan through the college or university cafeteria system. Your student could have limited control regarding where they are placed (though that is common for incoming freshman regardless of how the expenses are covered) and might be restricted in certain ways. Additionally, the same obligations that apply to the tuition will likely apply here.

In cases where room and board aren’t part of the deal, your student is essentially on their own to make sure these get covered. According to College Board, the average cost of room and board for 2016-2017 is an additional $10,440 at four-year public schools to $11,890 at private schools. As you can see, depending on where your child plans to study, this could be more than tuition!

Still, there are ways to save when it comes to housing. You can watch my Youtube video where I talk about how to cut living expenses HERE.

Books and Supplies

An area even less likely to be covered by their full ride scholarship is books and supplies. Textbooks are notoriously expensive; in some cases, they cost $1,000 a year or more for undergraduates. In fact, some books can cost $200 on their own, and that may only cover one class for one semester!

My favorite two ways of saving money on textbooks include Chegg, a site where I was able to rent books or even sell my textbooks back as well as purchasing used books from classmates. You’d be surprised but often times you can save by going one or two editions back – many times the changes are minimal and won’t impact the student at all!

Supply costs vary depending on the class and your child’s preferences. Paper, book bags, pencils, pens, notebooks, Scantron forms, and other items aren’t expensive on the surface but do add up over time. Some scientific or technical classes could require supplies that are somewhat out of the standard, like a particular calculator or safety equipment that isn’t handled through class fees. And, if your college student doesn’t have a laptop, that’s likely another “supply” that’ll need to be covered.

Exactly what they’ll need varies depending on the institution, or even the instructor, so figuring this out in advance can be challenging as well. In some cases, supplies will be listed on the syllabus or other provided materials, though they might not be completely aware of what they need until there are sitting in the classroom and get told to buy it.

Personal Expenses

Costs in this category are squarely on the shoulders of the student in the vast majority of full ride scholarships. Cell phone bills, laundry, dorm room furniture and small appliances, food outside of the meal plan, toiletries, clothes, electronics, entertainment, and almost anything else not mentioned above fall into this category.

Transportation can be a big part of the personal expenses category as well, especially if your child intends to bring a car. Money for gas, maintenance, parking, and insurance isn’t going to be covered in a free ride and can suck up a decent portion of any budget by itself. Our recommendation here is typically to leave the car at home if at all possible (at least freshman year!)

And, if your child plans to travel home during breaks, that means either more gas money at a minimum or the cost of plane tickets.

Oh, and if your child decides they want to experience the “Greek Life,” they could also be on the hook for monthly dues and other expenses too. While the exact amount needed varies between colleges and chapters, examples from Arizona State show fees ranging from $125 to over $2,000 a semester without any housing benefits.

We recently provided 75 Ways to Save on College Expenses so if you’re looking to save on personal expenses, check out this article with tons of ideas:


So, How DO You Prepare to Make Your Child’s College Free with a Full Ride Scholarship?

I'm sure it looks like making college free isn't going to be that easy, or it may even seem impossible. But, it is possible to take that full ride scholarship and use it to help make college free for your child, as long as they dedicate the time and energy necessary to make it a reality.

When we talk about “free rides,” we are often referring to a combination of institutional funding (whether it be tuition, room and board or even just a small contribution) and external scholarships (those from outside sources).

ne step you and your student need to complete if they already have a full ride scholarship offer is to research what is included in the arrangement and what is needed outside of it. Every college and university may handle this differently, and the offer one student receives might not match what someone else gets. This makes it critical to really understand what is and isn’t included, what is expected of your child, and what the remaining expenses can look like.

You also need to examine options for covering the expenses that aren’t covered, especially those that don’t lead to debt. This includes grants your child may receive through their FAFSA as well as scholarships outside of the free ride. There are numerous scholarships that cover some of the expenses above. In fact, some are awarded as cash your student can use on anything, including personal expenses! These are the external monies I mentioned earlier.

If you want a hand finding great scholarship opportunities for your high school or college-aged student, join our free webinar. Then their "free ride" can be built up to actually make college free – this can even result in an excess check to help cover personal expenses.

With proper planning, any full ride scholarship can actually turn into a completely free college experience. And that’s really the goal in the end because almost nothing is as amazing as seeing your child graduate from college completely debt free.


DID YOU WANT TO WATCH OUR PAYING FOR COLLEGE SERIES where we talk about how to save on various expenses? WATCH THEM BELOW!