If you’re the first in your family to attend college, you might be looking for so-called first-generation scholarships.
There are plenty of first-in-family scholarship opportunities, such as the TMCF/Walmart First-Generation Scholarship Program. Aside from $6,200 in aid, the program offers incoming freshman students an on-campus mentor at a historically black college or university within the Thurgood Marshall College Fund’s network.
Definition of First-Generation College Student
There are several different definitions of a first-generation college student:
- Neither parent has obtained a Bachelor’s degree or a more advanced degree
- Neither parent has obtained an Associate’s degree or a more advanced degree
- Neither parent has obtained a college degree or certificate
- Neither parent nor a sibling has ever enrolled in or attended college
Are You the First in Your Family to Attend College?
General financial aid is a starting point for most college students, but to cover the costs of higher education, students turn to specialized grants and scholarships that are only available to certain members of the student body.
Some grants and scholarships carry a mission, to distribute aid in a way that benefits targeted students. Minority scholarships that require applicants to exhibit certain ethnic heritage, or women-only financial aid are examples of student assistance that addresses the educational needs of particular student groups.
Access to higher education is an important measure of progress, so families that are sending their first members to college are given special consideration in the form of First in Family Scholarships. If you are your family’s first college student, this aid provides a leg-up towards increased educational mobility.
The scholarships are funded by public and private dollars, and administered according to the individual standards of each award. Students who qualify for first in family scholarships will be subject to a variety of performance and need-based requirements. First in family scholarships commonly require minimum GPAs that are above average, as well as financial need related to college.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) uses the least restrictive of these definitions to be inclusive of all possible definitions of a first-generation college student.
Scholarships for First-Generation College Students
These scholarships include scholarships that are limited to first-generation college students and scholarships that target first-generation college students for special consideration.
- American Indian College Fund (AICF) Coca-Cola First Generation Scholarship (also available through various colleges)
- Buick Achievers Scholarship
- Center for Student Opportunity (CSO) I’m First! Scholarship
- Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Choose Your Future Scholarship Fund
- Cynthia E. Morgan Memorial Scholarship Fund
- Florida First Generation Matching Grant (FGMG)
- Institute for Study Abroad (ISFA) First Generation College Student Program
- Norman and Pat Hayes Scholarship
- Patty & Melvin Alperin First Generation Scholarship
- Smith Scholarship Foundation
- Talent Incentive Program Grants (TIP)
- TELACU Education Foundation College Success Program
- TELACU Education Foundation Graduate School Support
- VAMOS Scholarships
In addition to these scholarships, several colleges have scholarships for first-generation college students attending the colleges.
Examples include the Benjamin and Patricia Allen Scholarship for first-generation college students at Iowa State University, the First Generation Grant at the University of Colorado at Boulder, the Frederik Meijer First Generation Honors Scholarship at Grand Valley State University, the Ingrid Saunders Jones Endowed Scholarship Fund at Michigan State University, the Fannie & Sam Constantino First Generation Scholarship at St. John Fisher College, Student Support Services Scholars Academy (SSS) and the George A. Miller Scholars Program at UC Berkeley and the Regents’ Scholarship at Texas A&M University.
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Corporate Scholarship Programs
The Sallie Mae Fund in partnership with the Hispanic College Fund, puts forth the Sallie Mae First in Family Scholarship. This diversity scholarship elevates hispanic access to education, subject to applicants meeting a combination of performance and need-based criteria. In addition to being the first member of your family to pursue a four-year college degree, eligibility for this scholarship requires:
- Hispanic cultural ancestry
- Financial need
- U.S. Citizenship
- Full-time enrollment
- Undergraduate degree program
- Approved institution
- GPA of at least 3.0
Applicants who meet Sallie Mae standards are eligible for awards worth $500 – $5000.
Mercedes Benz Drive Your Future Scholarship provides ‘First in Family’ opportunities for high school seniors who are the first members of their immediate families to matriculate. The scholarship is open to high-achievers that combine stallar academic performance with extracurricular success. Every year MBUSA awards dozens of these scholarships to academically motivated, financially needy college students. The program expects recipients to return the favor by serving their communities as volunteers, activists and community advocates.
The Coca Cola Foundation generously gives back to many world communities with college scholarships for first generation college students. Coca Cola First Generation Scholarships are awarded to dozens of international first-in-family undergraduate and graduate students each year. Fourteen-million scholarship dollars have been disbursed over the past 16 years. Each applicant must exhibit financial need and a reasonable academic record. Scholarship winners earn up to $5,000 toward tuition and college expenses.
First in Family Philanthropy
The J. Craig and Page T. Smith Scholarship Foundation is an Alabama philanthropic organization founded by Mignon Smith. The organization’s primary objective is to send disadvantaged Alabama students to college. Smith scholarships are not limited to first generation college students, but priority consideration is granted to applicants who are. Eligible applicants maintain C averages and engage in some special civic or family activities.
Farash Foundation First in Family Scholarships provide tuition assistance for first generation college students in New York’s Monroe and Ontario counties. Winners are eligible for full-ride scholarships designed to leave them debt-free following graduation. Community service and non-profit work is required during school, in exchange for the scholarships.
First Generation University Student Scholarships
Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota creates opportunities for families sending their first members to college. The First Generation Initiative Scholarship helps students who maintain high grade point averages in high-school and demonstrate high levels of financial need on their FAFSA. Extracurricular leadership roles in church, school or community are considered when determining scholarship winners.
Florida Department of Education uses a partnership with private donors to provide first in family scholarships to students whose parents do not possess bachelor’s degrees. A one-to-one dollar match between public and private dollars funds the First Generation Matching Grant Program. First generation resident students apply by submitting FAFSA results and materials requested by the granting institution.
A 500-word essay describing the impact of being your family’s first college student must be submitted with your application for ther Highpoint University First Generation Scholarships. You must also live within Highpoint city limits to apply. The North Carolina school issues two full-ride packages annually, to Guilford County Students.
Catawba College in North Carolina considers its First Family Scholarship to be among the school’s “most prestigious.” To qualify, students must first be invited to apply. High academic achievers must then submit a series of documents, including a letter of recomendation from a teacher or administrater, and a 300-word personal essay. Winners are eligible for full-tuition scholarships.
University of Cincinatti puts forth a need-based scholarship program that specifically promotes diversity within the school’s student body. Minorities, women and other student groups – including first generation college students – are targeted for financial aid that helps increase their representation in fields traditionally dominated by white males. Choose Ohio First Scholarships use high-school GPA, college entrance test scores and FAFSA results to determine winners, each of whom receive $4100-$4500 annual
University of Hawaii Foundation recently initiated a new scholarship at the Hilo campus. Through a partnership with the Dorrance Family Foundation, UH awards ten $8000 scholarships annually, to local students who are the first members of their families to attend college. High-school seniors with 3.0 GPAs and verifyable SAT/ACT scores are invited to apply. Scholarships can be renewed for as many as eight semesters, and recipients must reside on campus during freshman and sophomore years. These need-based awards are contingent on FAFSA results that demenstrate financial hardship.
Michigan Grand Valley State University’s Frederik Meijer Honors College supports the educational pursuits of exceptional college freshman who are the first members of their immediate families to go to college. The full-tuition First Generation Scholarships are renewable for up to eight semesters for honors students who remain in good standing.
Colorado State University – Global College puts forth a series of scholarships that increase college access for particular groups. First generation scholars are rewarded for advancing their studies at the college level. A recomondation from a family member is a unique eliginility requirement of the First Generation Scholarship, alongside a personal essay detailing the importance of a college education.
The University of California-Santa Cruz sponsors the UCSC Alumni First in Family Scholarship. Alumni contributions are used to help first in family college students make transitions into higher education.
Organizations Where First-Gen Students Can Find Scholarship Help
If learning how to pay for college as a first-gen student is difficult, consider reaching out to these four organizations.
1. College Greenlight: Creating a free profile on College Greenlight, which was built for both first-generation and low-income students, gives you access to a searchable database of more than $11 billion worth of scholarships.
College Greenlight will do the research for you, presenting a list of opportunities based on your academic, social and community accomplishments. Before you receive the results, you will be asked to provide your academic background and college preferences.
2. Strive for College: If you’re struggling to get started with a scholarship search, Strive for College can be a good resource. With the UStrive platform, you can meet with a mentor online who can answer questions about the college application process, including about scholarships. Although the platform doesn’t offer its own scholarships or database, your mentor can help you find the right scholarships to apply for.
The organization says that 89 percent of its users go on to attend college without taking on student loan debt. Learning how to apply for financial aid is also a big part of the nonprofit’s free online curriculum.
Strive for College also powers I’m First, an online community of first-generation students. If you need some inspiration before applying for scholarships, take a look at their video testimonials and blog posts.
3. FirstGEN Fellows: Designed for first-in-family undergraduates who want to pursue a career in social justice, FirstGEN Fellows awards a one-time stipend of $1,500 per student. Besides receiving the award, the six fellows take part in a 10-week summer program interning in or near the District of Columbia.
If you’re not interested in a career related to social justice, FirstGEN Fellows provides a list of organizations around the country that cater to low-income and first-generation students.
4. Student Success Agency: Just as professional athletes have agents to negotiate their contracts, first-time college students should have someone who helps them navigate how to pay for college. That’s the mission of Student Success Agency. It was founded by EJ Carrion, who knows firsthand how to score a full ride to college.
SSA says 90 percent of its agents received scholarships to attend college. They hail from 30-plus U.S. colleges.
In addition to finding scholarships, your agent is available to help while you apply for and attend college. The company estimates that the average agent-student pair interacts around 45 times per month.
Unlike other support-oriented organizations for first-generation students, SSA charges a fee. To be paired with an agent, you have to fork over $65 per month.
First-generation college students have a graduation rate of 34 percent, compared with 55 percent of the general student population, according to First Scholars, a program run by the private Suder Foundation. Financial aid and academic support are two ways to bridge the gap.
Think about it: The more mentorship you receive, the likelier you are to finish school on time. There are plenty of organizations offering such support, including Gateway to College, CFES Brilliant Pathways and Beyond 12.
Look for organizations that also offer scholarship help. The more tuition you can cover without resorting to debt, the more you can focus on preparing for a postgraduate career.
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