How to Find First Generation College Student Scholarships

Learn about what college scholarships are available for first-generation college students.

How to Find First Generation College Student Scholarships
Jantri Simbolon

Attending college is a transformative experience that provides individuals with the opportunity to gain knowledge, skills, and credentials that can propel them towards their career goals. However, for many students from low-income families, being able to afford college can be a major hurdle to overcome. This is especially true for first-generation college students, who may not have the same financial and social resources as their peers. Fortunately, there are scholarships available specifically for first-generation college students that can help make higher education more accessible.

In this BrokeScholar article we’re going to discuss what a first-generation college student is and what kinds of scholarships are specifically designed for them. 

What Is a First-Generation College Student?

A first-generation college student is someone whose parents or legal guardians did not attend college or earn a four-year degree. These students are often from low-income families and may face unique challenges such as lack of academic preparation, limited access to resources, and difficulty navigating the college application and financial aid processes. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), approximately one-third of undergraduate students in the United States are first-generation college students.

Why Are Scholarships for First-Generation College Students Important?

Scholarships for first-generation college students are important because they help remove financial barriers to higher education. By providing financial support for tuition, fees, books, and other educational expenses, scholarships can help make college more accessible for students who may not have the financial resources to pay for it on their own. Scholarships also help to address the inequities that exist in higher education, particularly for underrepresented and marginalized communities.

In addition to providing financial support, scholarships for first-generation college students can also provide social and emotional support. Being a first-generation college student comes with unique challenges that other students may not experience. These challenges can include:

  • Financial barriers: Many first-generation college students come from low-income families and may struggle to afford college tuition and fees. They may also lack financial literacy and be unfamiliar with the financial aid process.

  • Lack of social and cultural capital: First-generation college students may not have the same social and cultural capital as their peers who come from families with college-educated parents. They may struggle to navigate the college application process, understand academic expectations, and feel out of place on campus.

  • Academic preparedness: Some first-generation college students may not have had access to the same academic resources and opportunities as their peers, which can make the transition to college-level coursework challenging.

  • Emotional support: First-generation college students may feel isolated or unsupported in college, especially if they are the only one in their family who is attending college. They may also face additional stress and pressure to succeed academically and financially.

Thus, scholarships for first-generation college students can help to address these challenges in several ways:

  • Financial support: Scholarships can help to cover the costs of tuition, fees, and other educational expenses, making college more accessible for first-generation college students.

  • Mentorship and support: Some scholarships provide mentorship and other forms of support to help first-generation college students navigate the academic and social challenges of college.

  • Networking opportunities: Scholarships can provide opportunities for first-generation college students to connect with other students, alumni, and professionals in their field of interest.

  • Recognition and validation: Receiving a scholarship can provide recognition and validation for the hard work and achievements of first-generation college students, which can boost their confidence and motivation.

Types of Scholarships for First-Generation College Students

There are a variety of scholarships available specifically for first-generation college students. Some scholarships are awarded by colleges and universities, while others are offered by nonprofit organizations, corporations, and other entities. Here are a few examples of the types of scholarships available:

  • College-specific scholarships: Many colleges and universities offer scholarships specifically for first-generation college students who are attending their institution. These scholarships may be based on academic merit, financial need, or a combination of both. Some examples of college-specific scholarships include the First Generation Scholarship at the University of California, Berkeley and the First in the Family Scholarship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

  • Nonprofit scholarships: There are many nonprofit organizations that offer scholarships for first-generation college students. For example, the Gates Millennium Scholars Program provides full-ride scholarships to students from low-income families who are the first in their family to attend college. The Posse Foundation offers scholarships and mentorship to high-achieving students from underrepresented backgrounds.

  • Corporate scholarships: Many corporations offer scholarships for first-generation college students as part of their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. For example, the McDonald's HACER National Scholarship provides scholarships to Hispanic students who are the first in their family to attend college. The Coca-Cola Scholars Program offers scholarships to high-achieving students who are the first in their family to attend college.

Therefore, with a little research, first-generation college students can definitely find and apply for scholarships that cater to their background.

Tips for Applying for First-Generation College Student Scholarships

If you are a first-generation college student who is interested in applying for scholarships, here are a few tips to help you get started:

  • Research your options: There are many scholarships available for first-generation college students, so it's important to do your research and find ones that you are eligible for. Look for scholarships that align with your academic and career goals, as well as your financial needs.

  • Meet the eligibility requirements: Make sure that you meet all of the eligibility requirements for the scholarships you are interested in applying for. Eligibility requirements may include GPA, standardized test scores, financial need, and other criteria. Be sure to read the application instructions carefully and provide all of the required documentation.

  • Start early: Many scholarship applications have early deadlines, so it's important to start your search early and give yourself plenty of time to prepare your application. This includes gathering all of the required documentation, writing essays, and obtaining letters of recommendation.

  • Highlight your strengths: When applying for scholarships, be sure to highlight your strengths and accomplishments. This includes academic achievements, extracurricular activities, leadership experience, and any other experiences that demonstrate your potential for success.

  • Seek support: Applying for scholarships can be a daunting process, but you don't have to do it alone. Seek support from your school's college counselors, academic advisors, or other professionals who can provide guidance and advice.

The Bottom Line on First Generation College Student Scholarships

Scholarships for first-generation college students are a critical tool in helping to make higher education more accessible and equitable. By providing financial and social support, these scholarships help to remove barriers to higher education and empower students to achieve their academic and career goals. If you are a first-generation college student, be sure to explore the many scholarship opportunities available to you and take advantage of the support and resources that are available to help you succeed.

BrokeScholar has a massive collection of college scholarships. You can search for scholarships using a variety of criteria, such as minority scholarships, scholarships for women, and scholarships by study area. The amount of money awarded depends on the specific scholarship, but you can certainly find high-paying scholarships if you do your homework and learn the details of the scholarship program.

Andrew DePietro

Author: Andrew DePietro

Senior Researcher, and Content Strategist

Andrew DePietro is a finance writer covering topics such as entrepreneurship, investing, real estate and college for BrokeScholar, Forbes, CreditKarma, and more.