How to Land a Full-Tuition Scholarship

Many colleges offer a free ride for students who meet specific criteria.

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Imagine your ideal college experience. It most likely involves a combination of meeting new friends, joining clubs, or playing sports, and of course attending compelling, interesting classes that will prepare you for a successful life. It's doubtful that you care to give much thought to how you're going to pay for all of it—either now or later.

Though worrying about financing a college education is unavoidable for most people, a few people are either lucky enough to (a) have parents who foot the entire bill and will do the worrying for them, or (b) win a full-tuition scholarship. Since I can't give you any tips on adopting richer parents, let's jump right to full-tuition scholarships.

[Get more advice on how to pay for college.]

While there aren't that many private full-tuition scholarships available, the good news is that many colleges offer full-ride scholarships to students who meet specific criteria. If you think you've got the smarts to land a merit-based, full-ride scholarship from your college, make sure you're taking challenging high school courses—colleges and scholarship programs value those more than simply getting straight A's—and involving yourself in extracurricular activities and volunteering.

Before narrowing down your college choices, check out what different schools are offering in terms of scholarships. How many full-ride scholarships do they give out every year? What do they look for when determining who gets a full-tuition scholarship? Will the amount increase with tuition?

[Learn more about finding the right school.]

If you're particularly talented in a certain area—think sports or the arts—you may be eligible for a full-tuition athletic or arts scholarship from your college. Not every college offers strictly football or basketball scholarships. A full-tuition scholarship can be offered from any athletic department.

[Learn 7 things you need to know about sports scholarships.]

There are also a handful of private full-ride scholarships available. Here are a couple of good ones for which you should consider applying:

Gates Millennium Scholarship: The Gates Millennium Scholars program awards 1,000 good-through-graduation scholarships to use at any university or college of a student's choice. Students also receive personal and professional development throughout their college careers. Some of the eligibility requirements include holding a minimum high school G.P.A. of 3.33, meeting the federal Pell Grant eligibility criteria, being a citizen of the United States, and being African American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian Pacific Islander American, or Hispanic American. The deadline for the Gates Millennium Scholarship typically falls during the beginning of January. Visit www.gmsp.org for more information.

Chick Evans Caddie Scholarship: We've already told you about this scholarship in a previous post, but it's just too good to pass up the opportunity to write about it again. The Chick Evans Caddie Scholarship is a full tuition and housing college scholarship for golf caddies that is renewable for up to four years and awarded to 800 students. Selected applicants must have a strong caddie record, excellent grades, outstanding character, and demonstrated financial need.

Even if you don't end up winning a full-ride scholarship, don't get discouraged. There are plenty of scholarships available for lesser amounts. Just apply to as many as possible—there's no limit to how many you can receive—and the combination of scholarships you earn may result in you having to pay next to nothing for tuition.

Michelle Showalter joined Scholarship America in 2007 and is an alumna of Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.