Scholarships for First-Generation College StudentsJune 24, 2022
When it comes to higher education, first-generation college students — individuals that are the first in their families to pursue post-secondary education — face unique challenges. As a result, they have much lower completion rates than their peers; according to the Center for First-Generation Student Success, just 20% of first-generation students earn bachelor’s degrees within six years of enrolling in college.
Because they are the first in their families to attend college, they have to navigate financial aid on their own. They may not realize all the options available to them, such as grants and scholarships. However, there are many first-generation college student scholarships available that can make higher education more affordable. Scholarships geared toward first-generation college students can make higher education more attainable.
5 Top First-Generation College Student Scholarships
Scholarships for first-generation students can come from a variety of courses, including college and universities, non-profit organizations, small businesses, and for-profit corporations.
There are thousands of scholarship opportunities available, and many of them are geared towards students in specific areas or attending certain schools. We researched scholarships that are available to students nationwide, and these are the leading awards:
1. Coca-Cola First-Generation Scholarship
Awarded in partnership with the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), the Coca-Cola First-Generation Scholarship is a renewable award of $5,000. To qualify, students must be enrolled full-time at one of UNCF’s 37 member institutions.
Eligible students are the first in their families to attend a four-year college and have a demonstrated, unmet financial need. Students also must have a GPA of at least 3.0 on a 4.0 scale.
To apply, you need to submit current academic transcripts, your Student Aid Report, and a 300-word essay.
2. Education Dynamics Minority First-Generation Scholarship Contest
Students that belong to minority groups and are the first in their families to pursue an associate or bachelor’s degree may be eligible for up to $10,000 through the Minority First-Generation Scholarship Contest. To apply, you must provide basic information about yourself and submit a 500-word essay in response to a prompt.
3. Fontana Transport Scholars Program
Fontana Transport, a family-owned trucking company, operates the Fontana Transport Scholars Program. The company provides qualifying students with $5,000 scholarships.
To qualify for the award, you must be a first-generation student and in need of financial assistance. You must be pursuing a four-year degree at an accredited university and plan on majoring in one of the following subjects:
- Environmental Design
- Spanish Language/Literature
- Transportation management
Students don’t have to be U.S. citizens, but you must have at least a 3.5 GPA. Letters of recommendation aren’t required but are recommended.
4. Red Thread Scholarship Program
The Red Thread Foundation, a non-profit organization, awards college-bound women scholarships of $1,000 to help offset the cost of tuition, textbooks, and other expenses. To qualify, students must be women of an international background — eligible students can be foreign students, recent immigrants, or first-generation students. Applicants must be entering their first year of college, and they must submit answers to short-answer questions, an essay, and letters of recommendation.
The Red Thread Foundation will select a limited number of students for interviews. Interviews are 30 minutes in duration and are held via phone.
5. University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC) Access, Equity, and Inclusion Scholarship
The USAC has several scholarship opportunities available, but it designed the Access, Equity, and Inclusion Scholarship specifically for students belonging to underrepresented groups, such as ethnically or racially diverse students, first-generation college students, LGBTQ+ students, or students with disabilities. Scholarship recipients can use the money to fund study abroad opportunities.
Students are selected based on their applications and study abroad goals. Applicants must have a GPA of at least 2.5 and must apply to a USAC study abroad program.
How to Find Scholarships for First-Generation Students
The above scholarships are just a sampling of the available awards. To find other first-generation college student scholarships, follow these steps:
- Contact Your College: Contact your selected colleges’ financial aid offices and make sure they know that you’re a first-generation student. Many colleges and universities have institutional awards for students like you.
- Use Scholarship Search Tools: You can use scholarship search tools like The College Board’s Scholarship Search tool or FastWeb to find available awards. You can even create a profile to filter the results and find scholarships that match your information.
- Visit Your State Education Agency: Many states offer grants and scholarships for students that are residents of the state. You could qualify for first-generation student scholarships or grants and reduce your college expenses. To find out if your state operates a scholarship program, visit your state education agency.
Private Student Loans
If you have applied for scholarships, grants, and all the federal financial aid available, private student loans are still an option. You can use ELFI’s Find My Rate tool to see how much you could save.* If you chose to also take out loans on top of your other financial aid, you have the option post graduation to refinance your student loans and repay them at a lower interest rate.