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Full Ride Scholarships and How to Get Them

student-athletes walking to class

You may have heard of getting a “full ride” to a school before, but what is a full ride scholarship? In a nutshell, a full ride scholarship is the dream for many student-athletes.  

You want to go to college, and knowing how expensive it can be, you want to use your talents in sports to financially help you get there. It just makes sense. 

The downside is that not many student-athletes actually get full ride scholarships. They are pretty rare, and not all schools offer this type of financial award. So, what can you do to increase your odds? Check out our tips below so you can create a plan that will maximize your chances. 

What is a full ride scholarship?

Full ride scholarships are one of the most sought-after types of financial awards offered by colleges and universities. The goal for this award is to remove the need for any financial aid or private payments from the athlete. 

Full ride scholarships are one of the most sought-after types of financial awards offered by colleges and universities. The goal for this award is to remove the need for any financial aid or private payments from the athlete. 

What does a full ride scholarship cover?

The biggest difference between full rides and other scholarships is that a “full ride” will cover all college expenses (not just tuition). This comprehensive scholarship will help with books, fees, tuition, room and board, dining and other expenses you may have to attend college. 

What are scouts and coaches looking for?

Coaches who offer full ride sports scholarships are looking for high school seniors with combination of the following

What is the role of academics in full ride scholarships?

To play sports at the college level, you must meet specific NCAA requirements for academics and amateur status when you apply for college scholarships. You need a GPA of 2.5 or above over 16 core classes, and your ACT/SAT scores must be high enough that they meet NCAA minimum standards when combined with your GPA. 

Aside from the NCAA requirements, you should have superior grades and test scores to compete for full ride athletic scholarships. If you’re wondering “what GPA do you need for a full ride scholarship?” the higher, the better. Although 2.5 is the minimum goal, a higher GPA will set you apart from other athletes competing for scholarships.  

Your sports and academic stats both help determine whether you meet the high standards of college recruiters for the best full ride scholarships at the university of your choice. 

Don’t forget you can take tests like the ACT more than once if you need to improve your score. Additionally, the Princeton Review recommends some strategies for getting test-ready: 

How to get a full ride scholarship

If you’re serious about getting a full ride scholarship, you’ll need to dedicate time to the process. Knowing how to get full ride scholarships will help you create a plan to land the best opportunity possible.

Steps for a full ride scholarship

Step 1: Develop a strategy early

Even if you can check the box on everything scouts and recruiters want, you still need a strategy that gets you noticed among large numbers of college recruits vying for a limited number of full ride sports scholarships. One thing you and your parents need to know is that college athletic recruiting starts earlier rather than later, often as soon as your freshman year in high school. So, you shouldn’t wait until coaches can begin contacting you to show off your talents. 

Step 2: Start laying the groundwork

Once you find your stride in your chosen sport, you and your parents should start laying the groundwork for college recruitment and potential full ride scholarships.  

Your participation in championship tournaments, any awards you receive, your physical stats and your performance stats are all details that coaches look for. Focus on these areas if you plan to pursue college athletic recruiting. Make sure to add them to your NCSA profile.  

Step 3: Research full ride scholarship opportunities

Early on, your family should begin researching universities with the type of sports programs and full ride scholarships you aspire to.  

Check with your high school counselor, search online databases and review scholarship listings in college guides to find all eligible opportunities for scholarships early. This way, you can spend time honing specific athletic or academic skills throughout high school to have better chances of getting the scholarships you want. 

Further, you should investigate your favorite teams’ leagues and each team’s track record in those leagues. Research these and other pertinent stats to narrow down your prospects for full ride scholarships, and mention this diligence in your interactions with coaches or recruiters for maximum impact. 

Step 4: Start working with a recruiting service

This is an ideal time to touch base with a recruiting service like NCSA, fill out a profile and get an objective evaluation. Based on that evaluation, you’ll get advice for filling in thin spots on your resume so you can improve your chances for full ride scholarships. A reputable recruitment service can help you direct your focus on the most viable colleges for you that offer full ride scholarships. 

Step 5: Initiate contact with recruiters

Once you have your ducks in a row, it is time to reach out and be noticed.  

If possible, you should do this before you start your junior year, but that isn’t a hard and fast rule. If you need more time to solidify your athletic profile, you should take the time you need.  

Your recruiting service can help by evaluating where you stand as a potential university recruit (and where you need to be) to secure your spot among top college recruits. 

If you are ready before your junior year, you can initiate contact with recruiters earlier, too. Email, voicemail, texts and social media are all acceptable ways to get on a coach’s radar. It’s a good idea to take the lead here (rather than your parents) to show you want full ride scholarships on your own merits.  

Your initial contact with a coach should include: 

Once you have introduced yourself, you should follow up with a phone call

What colleges offer full ride scholarships? 

The top five universities with the highest average athletic scholarship awards per recipient in 2020 are as follows: 

Full ride scholarships are typically worth between $20,000 and $50,000, according to Sallie Mae. But they can go higher, especially if you get a true full ride. The amount varies so much because the cost and fees associated with each university are wildly different.  

College coaches either receive a set number of scholarships they can hand out or a set amount of scholarship money to award prospective students. This means there is a limit, no matter which school you want to attend, on the scholarships available for student athletes. If you are wondering what percentage of college athletes get full ride scholarships, the fact is that only about one-tenth of one percent (0.1%) of U.S. university students receive full funding.  

For the majority of these chosen few, winning one of the best full ride scholarships is no accident. Along with their parents, they did the research, crunched the numbers and got the professional assistance they needed to have the best chance of winning a free university education. 

Depending upon the school’s annual tuition, housing fees and dining costs, scholarships for college students may or may not constitute full ride athletic scholarships. However, for head count sports like football, basketball, women’s volleyball, tennis and gymnastics, scholarships for college students are always full rides

Most schools with sports programs offer more partial scholarships for high school seniors than full ride athletic scholarships. Even including partial scholarships, not many high school athletes will get athletic scholarships for college or make the cut to compete.  

Luckily, your university recruitment service is one of the best resources for locating colleges that offer full ride scholarships and fit your academic needs. You’ll also want to check out everything you can from other resources, like the NCAA website or the specific universities on your short list.  

NCAA divisions

Full ride scholarships are available to athletes at NCAA Division 1 and Division 2 colleges and universities. With 363 schools in Division 1 and 313 schools in Division 2, your choice of four-year colleges becomes even more limited if you want a full ride.  

Just 85 full ride scholarships are available to NCAA D1 universities annually. Fewer still are on offer to D2 colleges. Division 3 includes 432 schools, but these institutions do not offer college athletic scholarships. 

National rankings

Coaches and recruiters choose a select few candidates for offers of full ride scholarships, and websites like and publish athlete rankings. The ESPN 100 is also a good rankings resource for scout recruiting efforts. 

A good way to include your name on these sites is to create an NCSA profile. We have a powerful and free recruitment tool to get your name out there as you search out scholarship funding.  

Recruiters and coaches consider lists on these websites, but they’ll also look closely at your career stats, awards, athletic recognition and academics. 

Are scholarships for all 4 years?

The terms and duration for a full ride scholarship vary. So, you should always check the terms carefully to understand the details of a specific scholarship program. Some cover all four years, while others may only cover one, two or three years of school. 

Additionally, full ride scholarships will either automatically renew each year or require you to reapply. Most of the time, unless you don’t keep up your end of the deal, you shouldn’t have any issue requalifying year after year once you obtain a full ride scholarship. That means your academic performance, as well as your athletic performance, will be up for review each year before your scholarship renews.  

Many schools offer partial athletic scholarships that make it possible for more players to attend. The awards vary according to the pool of funding available to coaches once head count scholarships go out. If you don’t receive a full ride but are a good prospect, your coach may be able to offer you a significant scholarship that will cover many of your school expenses. 

Other kinds of athletic scholarships

Division 1 and Division 2 of the NCAA have many schools that provide over $3.7 billion in athletic scholarships to almost 190,000 student athletes.  

But that’s not your only option. The NAIA also gifts more than $800 million in scholarships every year (with a set maximum number of scholarships awarded). Most of these scholarships are partial scholarships. 

Another option for athletic scholarships is the NJCAA, which has 525 member schools and three divisions in specific sports. Division 1 NJCAA schools have full athletic scholarships, while Division 2 schools offer full or partial athletic scholarships.  

Other scholarships may exist based on your location, GPA, sports background and other factors. Always seek out scholarship opportunities, such as those on, to see what opportunities you have if you don’t get a full ride before attending college. 

Learn more about the different types of athletic scholarship offers

Overview of NCSA

So, what is a full ride scholarship? It’s an opportunity to go to college, play the sport you love and not have to worry about financial aid. But getting a full ride isn’t as simple as just wanting it. You have to work towards it all throughout high school. 

Now that you know more about how to get a full ride scholarship, NCSA is ready to help.  

No matter where you’re at in the process, our website has resources, tools and information you can use to your advantage. We want to help you get recruited and improve your chances of receiving a full ride scholarship. Learn more about what NCSA can do for you (and create your free profile) to begin. 

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