Getting a Full-Ride Scholarship to Harvard, Princeton, or Yale

Many students dream of going to Ivy League schools. The steep costs that come with attending elite schools, however, end the dream right there. Luckily, a full-ride scholarship could make their wildest dreams come true.

And now you may be wondering about the steps to take on how to get a full-ride scholarship to HYP.

All eight Ivies and many other top tier schools give scholarships solely based on need. Getting a full-ride scholarship to one of these top schools depends upon your family’s household earnings and saving. Ivy Leagues and most other top tier schools do not give any merit-based aid.

Everyone knows that you have to be an above-average student to be noticed by the admissions officers of premier US schools.

Being a bright and well-rounded student may allow you to get accepted to an Ivy League school, but getting accepted doesn’t dictate the price of accepting that acceptance.

But First: Full-Ride vs. Full-Tuition Scholarship

Many students use full-ride scholarships and full-tuition scholarships as if they are the same thing, thinking they are one and the same.

However, there is a big difference between the two.

Let’s check out the differences between the two scholarship types that the Ivy Leagues offer…

What is a full-ride scholarship?

A full-ride scholarship is a type of scholarship that shoulders the entire cost of going to college. So, in other words, it takes care of more than just tuition. A full-ride scholarship also covers expenses like books, school supplies, and room and board, making going to college virtually free.

Just about anything related to college that comes with a price tag is covered by a full-ride scholarship, which is great for a student with a small budget and a big dream of attending an Ivy League school.

As a matter of fact, a full-ride scholarship can also pay for expenses such as living costs and many of the fees that international students usually have to pay out of pocket.

So, if you think that going to HYP requires your family to have a stellar bank account, that’s not always the case.

A full-ride scholarship may not cover expenses like penalties, such as those for coming late to school or parking illegally. One thing about a full-ride scholarship is that a number of entities can give it.

For instance, the Ivy League of your choice can provide it. The federal government and a private source can grant it, too. However, a full-ride scholarship from the latter can be very rare.

Here’s one more wonderful thing about a full-ride scholarship: it can be merit-based or need-based. In some instances, it can also be athletic-based or arts-based.

Unfortunately, most top-tier schools provide only one kind of full-ride scholarship: a need based scholarship. We will talk about what it is as well as other important matters about it in a few.

What is a full-tuition scholarship?

A full-tuition scholarship is a type of scholarship that covers the tuition — the sum of money paid in exchange for being taught or instructed by a school (source: google search). A full-tuition scholarship does not pay for any other college-related costs such as textbooks, room and board, travel, and other expenses.

Just as its name suggests, a full-tuition scholarship covers the cost of tuition. If something else is related to attending college and it’s not tuition, you or your parents will have to take care of it.

As a general rule of thumb, a full-tuition scholarship does not cover fees that are not regarded as mandatory in terms of going to college. Some common examples are housing and meals.

Just like a full-ride scholarship, a full-tuition scholarship can also come from different sources. The school you are about to go to may offer it, or the government or a private source, which is quite uncommon.

And just like a full-ride scholarship, it can also be based on either merit or need. Some schools may grant merit-based full-tuition scholarships only.

Other schools may offer nothing but need-based full-tuition scholarships. There are also schools that provide both merit-based and need-based full-tuition scholarships.

While the coverage of a full-tuition scholarship is certainly not as extensive as the coverage of a full-ride scholarship, what’s really nice about it is that it’s the more common type of scholarship between the two.

And since the bulk of the cost of attending any private university/college is the tuition, a full-tuition scholarship still covers a significant amount.

The sticker price/total cost for a private institution is usually ~$75,000 and the tuition is usually ~$50,000, so a full-tuition scholarship covers about 2/3 of your sticker price).

As for the rest of the cost that full-tuition scholarships do not cover, check out my article about getting paid while in college to take care of the remaining charge.

The Problem With Full-Ride Scholarships

Because it covers just about everything that you will need to pay to get your college degree, it can be very tempting to apply for a full-ride scholarship.

Having one is like going to college for free, even if the college is one of the Ivy Leagues which, as everyone knows, come with exorbitant sticker prices.

Unfortunately, besides making going to college easy on the pocket, there is one more important matter about a full-ride scholarship that you need to know about. It’s none other than the fact that it is so uncommon!

Well, finding it is easy because many schools offer it. What’s more, it can also come from the government and other sources. Sadly, it is a different story when it comes to getting it.

As a matter of fact, upon seeing the figures, you may wind up panicking and rethinking your college list all over again.

How rare are full-ride scholarships?

Full-ride scholarships are rare. Only 0.3% of full-time students enrolled at four-year colleges get it to pay for the entire cost of attendance (COA). Said students have full-ride scholarships through any combination of money from their schools, federal government and private sources.

Obviously, a full-ride scholarship is hard to come by. According to statistics, there were 16.6 million undergraduate students in the US attending college in 2018 (I’m sure the number has risen slightly since).

By doing the math, the truth that only ~49,800 of the students are able to go to college without shelling out money will surface. Saying that the chances of getting a full-ride scholarship are slim is an understatement. It’s harder than getting into the super elite and selective school itself.

But if your application gets approved, you and your family will experience the full pleasure of you getting a full-ride scholarship from an Ivy League school!

To give you a much better idea, below is a screenshot of the results I got from filling out some basic info. I used MyIntuition calculator, which gives a a rough estimate because it doesn’t go into too much detail. Remember, at best, the screenshot below is an estimate.

It breaks down the estimated cost of going to Harvard for one year if the student is from a family of four making $100,000 a year and has been awarded a need-based scholarship:

After receiving financial aid in the form of a need-based scholarship, the student/parents will only have to shell out $5,600 in a year.

That’s just a small fraction of the overall cost of attending Harvard for an entire school year, which amounts to $75,900 — thanks to the $67,300 covered by the scholarship.

Also, the amount of a need-based scholarship can vary from income to income and school to school, as demonstrated in this article on different financial aids from Ivy Leagues and Little Ivies.

For more accurate results, I would recommend going onto the school’s financial aid page and using the financial aid calculator they provide.

Each school calculates aid differently, so make sure you plug in information for each school that interests you because the cost at one school could differ greatly from another.

Steps to Getting a Full-Ride Scholarship

There are different full-ride scholarships available from different sources. Some of them are geared towards certain types of students, too. There are full-ride scholarships for everyone, although not everybody will get it.

If you are planning on going to HYP, unfortunately, there is only one type of a full-ride scholarship that you could get. It’s none other than a need-based full-ride scholarship.

Every Ivy League school does not give any form of merit-based scholarships. The same is true with many other selective schools in the US, such as Caltech, Stanford, and MIT.

So, in other words, even if you discovered a definitive cure for COVID-19 or won more Olympic gold medals than Michael Phelps (he won a total of 23, which is the most number of gold medals ever won by an Olympian), going to Harvard won’t make you eligible for any type of scholarship based on merit.

The good news is that Ivy League schools are known to be generous when it comes to providing need-based scholarships, and that includes full-ride scholarships for students from low-income families.

In fact, Harvard, on its own admissions page, claims: “For families who earn between $65,000 and $150,000, the expected contribution is between zero and ten percent of your annual income.”

Besides not having enough money to attend a premier college, here are some other things that you need to have to be able to apply for and get a full-ride scholarship from Harvard, Princeton or Yale:

Important Documents to Submit

Besides the requirements mentioned above, it is also important that you submit a number of documents necessary for applying for a need-based full-ride scholarship to Princeton or any other school — Ivy League or otherwise.

You really need to make sure you stay on top of your organization for financial aid documents. Failure to provide all the documents you need could cause you to miss out on aid that could literally make a difference in which school you end up choosing.

Here is a list of the documents you will need when you begin your journey of applications such as the CSS profile and FAFSA for financial aid.

Different schools may have different requirements when it comes to applying for a full-ride scholarship. Make sure that you submit every single document that the school you wish to go to requires.

Related Article: What Makes Yale University Unique?

Some Top Schools That Offer Merit Scholarships


The UChicago stamps scholarship doesn’t cover all four years of college – only your junior and senior years. However, the scholarship does cover all expenses and gives you $20,000 to use for a variety of opportunities such as internships and research.

UChicago has a plethora of scholarships that aren’t necessarily full-ride or full-tuition, but do cover funding expenses for research and summer programs. You can check out those scholarships on UChicago’s website.


I’m just going to throw it out there that I love Vanderbilt University. To this day, Vanderbilt ties with Northwestern for the best college visit experience. And on top of that, Vanderbilt is one of the only top schools that offers full-tuition based on merit.

The three main scholarships are the Ingram Scholars Program, the Cornelius Vanderbilt Scholarship, and the Chancellors Scholars program.

All three of these scholarships cover your tuition for all four years, and offer some kind of stipend to use in the summer for an “immersive experience,” as Vanderbilt calls it.

Some other merit-based scholarships (that aren’t necessarily full-tuition) that Vanderbilt offers are Carell Family Scholarship, Clarks Scholars Program, Maggie Craig Memorial Program, Curb Leadership Scholarship, and the Fred Russell–Grantland Rice Scholarship.

All of these scholarships have different criteria, so I suggest you check out this online pamphlet created by Vanderbilt about the specifics of each scholarship.

University of Notre Dame

University of Notre Dame also offers a stamps scholarship that covers full tuition and fees along with a $3,000 stipend per year.

Notre Dame also offers The Hesburgh Yusko Scholars Program that gives $25,000 per year for tuition and some money to complete summer programs. For more detailed info, here is Notre Dame’s own site that explains eligibility.

UCLA (University of California – Los Angeles)

UCLA also offers a Stamps Scholarship that pays for fours years of full-tuition, fees, and a $12,000 enrichment fund to use over the course of four years for enriching experiences.

Like other Stamps Scholarships, this one is really competitive with only 10 nominees each year – five Californian residents and five non-residents. And UCLA is a huge school that admitted over 15,000 applicants from a pool of close to 110,000.

UCLA also offers the UCLA Regents Scholarship, UCLA Alumni Scholarships, UCLA Achievement Scholarship (merit-based and need-based)

Duke University

Duke University

Duke University has one scholarship that has an application, and that is the Robertson Scholars Leadership Program. It covers all four years of tuition, room & board, fees, etc. (basically a full-ride) and is offered exclusively to Duke and UNC Chapel Hill Students.

Other merit-based scholarships from Duke include:

UNC Chapel Hill

Aforementioned, UNC Chapel Hill does provide the Robertson Scholars Leadership Program that covers all expenses (basically a full-ride).

Since the Robertson Scholars Leadership Program is a scholarship not given by the university or the federal government (aka a private scholarship), there is a separate application you need to fill out to be considered.

Another private scholarship given by Chapel Hill is the Morehead-Cain scholarship that also covers your four years at the university.

Besides those two private scholarships, UNC Chapel Hill offers even more scholarships (non-private scholarships) than Duke that can be found here.

Chapel Hill says that to be considered for these non-private scholarships, you don’t need to fill out any additional applications – your FAFSA and CSS profile is all you need.

I would recommend to look into the specifics of each scholarships because some are awarded on the basis of need and merit, some solely based on merit, and some based on targeted merit (such as achievements in STEM).

Emory University

As I understand it, Emory University offers three scholarship programs under the Emory University Scholar Programs: Emory College Woodruff Scholars, Oxford College Woodruff Scholars, and Goizueta Scholars Program.

Within each of those programs, there are multiple scholarships specific to the program. For example, the Goizueta Scholars Program offers scholarships to exclusively to those who are pursuing a BBA (Bachelor of Business Administration) in the Goizueta Business School.

I’ve listed just a handle of incredible schools that offer merit-based aid. Before you dash your hopes of attending a top tier school because of the price, take a look at whether or not they offer merit-based scholarships.

Just Before You Apply for a Full-Ride Scholarship

Going to an Ivy League school is possible for an above-average student from a low-income family, thanks to an assortment of financial aid grants.

Above, you came across details on how to get a full-ride scholarship to Harvard, Princeton or Yale.

These Ivy Leagues may have different admission requirements alright. However, they require students applying for full-ride scholarships to take pretty much the same steps and meet pretty much the same prerequisites.

If you fear that you may fail to get your hands on a full-ride scholarship to Harvard, Princeton or Yale because you know you don’t qualify for much need-based financial aid, then it’s a good idea to consider going to another school that offers excellent education but has a number of financial aid programs to offer.

Related Article: How Many People Get Into Harvard?

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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