How to Find Scholarships as a First-Generation College Student

Some students may be deterred from trying to become the first in their family to earn a four-year degree due to the high cost of education. However, first-generation students wishing to finance their higher education have access to a plethora of funding options, including scholarships, programs, and consulting services.

According to Lucas Rodriguez, a senior and first-generation student at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., “applying to college and seeing these massive numbers on the cost-to-attend parts of websites is terrifying.” Although it may seem overwhelming, there are resources available.

A 2021 Pew Research Center survey states that about two-thirds of first-generation college graduates have student loan debt, which is a larger percentage than for those whose parents have attended college. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, first-generation students are also more likely to come from lower-income homes. Pew’s research of Federal Reserve Board data also shows that first-generation students ultimately earn lower wages than their peers.

Here are some strategies for first-generation college students to reduce debt and discover scholarships beyond what their schools may provide.

Finding First-Gen Scholarships: A Guide

Online resources offer a plethora of first-generation student scholarships. Experts advise starting with a straightforward web search to find scholarships that are available, but they caution that sorting through thousands of results might be daunting.

Greenlight for Colleges

Users of College Greenlight, a program designed for underprivileged, first-generation, and low-income students, can register a free account and peruse a database containing materials worth billions of dollars related to college preparation and scholarships.


For high school and college students, UStrive provides mentorship and counseling services for college. First-generation students can acquire scholarships with the assistance of UStrive mentors, who can also provide information on financial aid and college application procedures.

Fellows of FirstGEN

FirstGEN Fellows is an initiative aimed at first-generation college students desiring to work in the field of social justice. It provides a one-time stipend of $1,500 per student coupled with a 10-week summer internship in or around the District of Columbia.

Other Scholarship Resources for First-Gen Students

Norm Bedford, Virginia Commonwealth University’s associate vice president for student financial services, advises creating Google alerts to keep track of freshly posted scholarships according to a student’s profile. Students can customize the alerts by adding criteria, including first-gen, which will help them focus on more relevant possibilities and alert them when a scholarship becomes available.

First-generation students are advised by experts to apply for scholarships broadly and not to be discouraged by those that appear unachievable.

According to Bedford, “most scholarships are not specific to first-generation students in general.” “However, we aim to convey to students that they may still be eligible for that scholarship unless they find some kind of exclusion there.”

The director of Boston University’s Newbury Center, a resource for first-generation students, Maria Dykema Erb, advises students to submit as many scholarship applications as they can.

“I urge students to apply for scholarships even if they only see one for $500—there are so many opportunities available,” she says. “You would be surprised at what might come back to you, but it takes a lot of time.”

How to Establish a Network of Financial Support

Building a strong network of mentors, financial advisers, and first-generation community members is essential, according to experts, if you want assistance completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, and locating additional funding and support.

Experts urge students to get to know the advisers in financial aid offices of schools they are interested in, in addition to high school counselors, who can be a valuable resource.

For instance, Towns notes, “a scholarship flew across my desk looking for first-generation students with limited resources.” “And I was able to connect one to the application so they could get access to that because I knew students.”

According to Towns, first-generation college students will have an easier time locating the support they require the earlier such relationships are established.

First-generation college students can get support from federal TRIO programs, which are intended for students from underprivileged backgrounds, during their time in college. Additionally, first-generation student clubs like You First at VCU and First Gen United at GWU, as well as on-campus facilities for them, are considered some of the finest resources for obtaining steady financial help, according to experts.

According to Rodriguez, vice president of First Gen United, “I don’t know how the university expects me to pay for this at this point last year when I got my financial aid package.” “I met the folks in the financial aid office through First Gen United, and they were gracious enough to take a seat with me, go over my file, and discuss our options.”

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