10 First-Generation College Student Scholarships — and Tips to Win Them

First-generation college student scholarships are critical in helping families afford higher education. Also known as first-in-family scholarships, these awards are offered by local governments, schools and private entities, such as foundations and corporations. They’re meant for students whose parents, and perhaps siblings, haven’t attended or graduated from a college or university program.

Below are some example first-generation college student scholarships, plus tips on how to find and win additional financial aid opportunities.

10 first-generation college student scholarships

Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a critical step in the college financial assistance process: It’s the gateway to federal grants, work-study programs and loans. But you’re leaving money on the table if you don’t also apply for state, private and school-based first-generation college student scholarships.

Find many of these opportunities using free online scholarship search tools. To get you started, here are some scholarship programs that could be a fit for you:

1. Connecticut Trial Firm’s Education Accessibility Scholarship
2. EducationDynamics Minority First Generation Scholarship
3. Red Thread Foundation for Women scholarships
4. University Studies Abroad Consortium Access Scholarships
5. Wal-Mart Foundation First-Generation Scholarship
6. Coca-Cola First Generation Scholarship
7. Texas A&M University’s Regents’ Scholars Program
8. University of Colorado-Boulder’s First Generation Scholars Program
9. University of California-Berkeley’s George A. Miller Scholars Program
10. Rhode Island College’s Miranda Scholarship

National first-generation college student scholarships

1. Connecticut Trial Firm’s Education Accessibility Scholarship

Eligibility: Write a 750-word essay about America’s public education system; have a GPA of at least 3.0
Award: $1,000
Deadline: Dec. 31, 2021

2. EducationDynamics Minority First Generation Scholarship

Eligibility: Be among “minority applicants who are the first in their families to go to college”
Award: $10,000
Deadline: Closed for 2021

3. Red Thread Foundation for Women scholarships

Eligibility: “Women of an international background, including foreign students, immigrants or first-generation Americans” who are entering their first year at a U.S. college or university
Award: $1,000
Deadline: Closed for 2021

4. University Studies Abroad Consortium Access Scholarships

Eligibility: Neither of your parents graduated from a four-year college or university (or meet other “underrepresented” criteria); have a GPA of at least 2.5; plan to study abroad
Award: Varies
Deadline: Rolling

5. Wal-Mart Foundation First-Generation Scholarship

Eligibility: Plan to enroll at a public Historically Black College or University or Predominantly Black Institution; have a grade point average (GPA) of at least 2.5
Award: Up to $6,200 (for 2020-2021)
Deadline: Closed for 2021

School-specific first-generation college student scholarships

6. Coca-Cola First Generation Scholarship

Eligibility: Plan to enroll at one of a handful of eligible Thurgood Marshall College Fund member schools; have a grade point average (GPA) of at least 3.0
Award: $5,000
Deadline: Closed for 2021

7. Texas A&M University’s Regents’ Scholars Program

Eligibility: Be an on-campus, full-time student and complete the FAFSA
Award: As much as $6,000 per year for up to four years
Deadline: Jan. 1

8. University of Colorado-Boulder’s First Generation Scholars Program

Eligibility: Undergraduates whose parents or legal guardians don’t have a bachelor’s degree
Award: Between $4,000 and $8,000 per year depending on your in-state or
out-of-state residency status
Deadline: March 25, 2022

9. University of California-Berkeley’s George A. Miller Scholars Program

Eligibility: Community college transfers who are “low-income, first-generation students”
Award: A stipend of up to $5,000 for fall and spring semesters, and $2,000 for summer terms for transfer students from community college
Deadline: Closed for 2021

10. Rhode Island College’s Miranda Scholarship

Eligibility: “First-generation and underrepresented students in the performing arts”
Award: $3,000 to $5,000 per year for two years
Deadline: Closed for 2021

4 tips to win first-generation college student scholarships

Though the first-generation college student scholarships listed above could prove valuable to your family, it’s crucial to search far and wide for related opportunities, and not just those specifically for first-in-family students. That’s among our tips for how to apply for — and win — financial aid for your school:

1. Start with the longer applications
2. Apply for first-in-family scholarships that reward your strengths
3. Ask for help at home and online
4. Check with your state and school

1. Start with the longer applications

By going after the bigger awards first (which can come with a more extensive application process), you’ll put yourself through the ringer — but that effort will pay off.

E.J. Carrion knows this personally: Now the founder of college mentoring service Student Success Agency, he won the full-ride Gates Millennium Scholars Scholarship, allowing him to graduate debt-free from the University of Oklahoma in 2011.

“Start by applying for lengthy ones because you can use that information as the process continues,” he told Student Loan Hero in 2017. “For the Gates scholarship, I was required to submit eight essays, but once [I] completed [them], I used them for other applications as well.”

According to Carrion, many students wait until they’re accepted into college to begin looking for scholarships; this can put you at a disadvantage. Instead, start as early as possible.

“My mother and I were looking at those scholarships before I [was] even [eligible to] apply,” he said. “This gave us more preparation time and strategic direction because we knew what they were looking for, and I had time in high school to make those things happen.”

If you’re a high school junior, for example, explore scholarship opportunities for high school seniors. You can get a handle on common requirements and use the time you have to meet them. You might work on your grades, take on a student leadership role or join a school sports team to make yourself a more well-rounded applicant.

2. Apply for first-in-family scholarships that reward your strengths

Understanding that applying for college scholarships is a numbers game, Carrion took his strategy one step further. He applied to more than 30 organizations that required a scholarship essay, resume or letters of recommendation. He hadn’t graduated in the top 20 percent of his high school class, and he needed to stand out in another way.

Carrion chose the 30-plus scholarships because each had had a mission related to diversity, leadership involvement or community service — not coincidentally, these were his three biggest strengths.

“I tell students the key is to find scholarships that align with your strengths beyond GPA,” he said. “However, if you have excellent grades and do well on standardized tests, clearly those types of scholarships should be your priority.”

As you search for scholarships for first-generation college students, read about the organizations that offer them. If you can identify with the type of student that the organization is aiming to award, you could be a good fit.

Here are three examples of first-generation college student scholarships that are clear about their intended audience:

  1. The Cynthia E. Morgan Memorial Scholarship Fund: For Maryland high school students planning to pursue a career in the medical field
  2. Bay Area Minority Law Student Scholarship Program: For underrepresented minority students looking to study law in and near San Francisco
  3. The Hispanic Scholarship Consortium: For Texas residents (not necessarily U.S. citizens) of Hispanic or Latino heritage

As you can see, scholarship opportunities for first-generation students can be very specific. Seek out those that are right up your alley — that way you’ll increase your chances of winning them.

3. Ask for help at home and online

If you’re a first-in-family student, you likely don’t have very many resources at your disposal — you might not even have a family member or close friend who’s graduated from college. But don’t discount the possibility that they can still help you during the college financial aid process.

“The biggest thing a student can do is open a consistent dialogue with a caring adult about their college plans,” Carrion said. “My mother was that person for me. She kept me accountable and followed up with me daily to make sure I was on track with deadlines and paperwork.”

Whether or not you can find a family member or mentor who has the time to help you navigate this process, there are more ways to find support. Including Carrion’s agency, here are some resources for first-in-family students:

4. Check with your state and school

Carrion had the great fortune of having all his college expenses — tuition, room and board and books — paid for by the time he reached campus. But not all first-generation students have it so good.

It’s likely you’ll show up for class wondering how to finance the rest of your education. Well before you decide if private student loans are your best option, look to your state and your school for support.

Florida’s Department of Education, for example, offers its residents the First Generation Matching Grant Program. You can find your home state’s related scholarship and grant programs by using the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators’ handy map.

Simply calling up or walking into your (prospective) campus financial aid office might also yield some school-based aid.

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