What Is a First-Generation College Student?

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As the landscape of higher education continues to evolve, a term often used in the academic sphere is "first-generation college student." The label applies to students whose parents or guardians have not attained a four-year college degree.

Being a first-generation college student comes with its unique challenges and opportunities. In this Bold blog post, we will delve into the definition and criteria of a first-generation college student, discuss strategies for first-generation student success, explore available resources, and highlight scholarships tailored to support first-generation students.

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Oftentimes, being a first-generation college student not only means that you are the first person in your family to attend college but also the first person to pay for college. Applying for financial aid and scholarships for first-generation college students is an awesome way to pay tuition and fees without taking out student loans. First-generation students can easily apply for scholarships on Bold.org by creating a free Bold.org profile.

Many scholarship opportunities for first-generation college students provide students with networking, mentorship, and career opportunities sponsored by other first-generation students. Applying for a college scholarship can both help you pay for the cost of higher education and connect you with other talented first-generation students who successfully earned their college degrees.

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Defining First-Generation College Students

A first-generation college student, also known as a first-gen student, is an individual whose parents or legal guardians have not completed a four-year college or university degree. The parents of first-generation students may have a high school diploma or an associate's degree, or they may not have completed high school.

This definition applies regardless of whether the student's siblings or other family members have pursued higher education. The term aims to identify and acknowledge students who are the first in their immediate family to venture into the realm of postsecondary education.

Criteria for Identifying First-Generation College Students

To determine if a student qualifies as first-generation, educational institutions typically employ a simple set of criteria:

  1. Parental Education: If neither of the student's parents has completed a four-year college degree, they are considered first-generation.
  2. Legal Guardian Status: In cases where a student's parents have not raised them, the first-generation status can be attributed to their legal guardians.
  3. Siblings: Students may still be first-generation even if their siblings have attended college, as long as their parents have not obtained a four-year degree

Browse these first-generation college student scholarships to maximize your college savings now!

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How to Succeed in College as a First-Generation Student

Navigating the college landscape as a first-generation student can be daunting, but with the right mindset and strategies, success is within reach for many first-gen students. Here are some essential tips to help first-gen students thrive in their college journey:

  1. Seek Support and Community: Many colleges have dedicated support services for first-generation students. Connect with fellow first-gen students, join campus organizations, and participate in mentorship programs to build strong support systems. These connections will help you navigate the aspects of college culture and academics that may be less familiar to first-generation students.
  2. Academic Resources: Take advantage of academic resources like tutoring, study groups, writing centers, and academic advisors. These services can assist you in excelling academically and staying on track. Check out this blog post to learn more about how to get good grades in college!
  3. Financial Literacy: Familiarize yourself with financial aid options, scholarship opportunities, and budgeting skills. Financial stress can be a significant burden, so learning to manage your finances is crucial. Most colleges have financial aid officers available to help explain your financial aid package and explore other options for paying for college, such as work-study or on-campus employment.
  4. Time Management: College life can be demanding, with multiple responsibilities and deadlines. Develop effective time management skills to balance academics, work, extracurricular activities, and personal life.
  5. Seek Guidance: Don't hesitate to contact professors or faculty members for advice and guidance. Most educators are more than willing to help students who show initiative and a desire to succeed.
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How to Pay for College as a First-Generation Student

Funding higher education can be a significant concern for first-generation college students, but various financial aid options are available to help alleviate the burden. Here are some ways first-gen students can fund their education:

1. Federal Financial Aid: Federal financial aid is one of the most accessible and crucial sources of funding for college education. To apply for federal aid, first-generation students must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA determines eligibility for various federal programs, including:

  • Pell Grants: Need-based grants awarded to undergraduate students with exceptional financial need. Pell Grants do not require repayment.
  • Federal Work-Study (FWS): A program that provides part-time job opportunities to eligible students, allowing them to earn money to cover educational expenses.
  • Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans: Low-interest federal loans that students can borrow to help finance their education. Subsidized loans do not accrue interest while the student is in school, while unsubsidized loans do.

2. State Financial Aid: In addition to federal aid, many states offer financial aid programs specifically for residents pursuing higher education within the state. These programs may include grants, scholarships, and tuition assistance based on financial need, academic merit, or other criteria. First-generation students should research the financial aid options available in their home state.

3. Institutional Scholarships and Grants: Colleges and universities often provide their scholarships and grants to incoming and current students. These institutional awards may be based on academic achievement, leadership skills, extracurricular involvement, or other factors. First-generation students should check with the financial aid office of their chosen institution for available opportunities.

4. Private Scholarships: There are numerous private organizations, corporations, and foundations that offer scholarships to students based on various criteria, such as academic achievement, community service, specific career goals, or demographic background. Many private scholarships are not limited to first-generation students, but some may specifically target this demographic. Online scholarship databases like Bold.org can help students find applicable opportunities.

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Bold.org Scholarships for First-Generation College Students

These Bold.org exclusive scholarships are generously sponsored by donors who want to support first-generation college students pursuing a bachelor's degree or graduate degree. You can apply for scholarships for first-generation college students on Bold.org by creating a free Bold.org profile.

Dr. Andy Nieto Memorial First Generation Opportunity and Excellence Scholarship

Dr. Andy Nieto was a first-generation college student who earned a doctorate in materials science and engineering from the University of California, Davis, in 2016. Dr. Nieto received the ONR-Young Investigator Award in 2021 for his research in materials science and engineering research and worked as an Assistant Professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey.

This scholarship seeks to honor Dr. Nieto's life by supporting first-generation college students pursuing higher education.

The scholarship is open to first-generation undergraduate students with a minimum of a 3.5 GPA pursuing engineering or materials science.

To apply, submit an 800-1000 word essay or short video describing the significance of being a first-generation college student, your desire to pursue an engineering or materials science degree, and what this opportunity means to you. The application deadline is September 12, 2023, and one winner will receive $1,200.

Chang Heaton Scholarship for Music Excellence

The Chang Heaton Scholarship for Music Excellence recognizes that artistic programs are often inaccessible for first-generation college students and minority students due to a lack of mentorship and financial resources.

In response to this reality, this scholarship will award $500 to five first-generation BIPOC undergraduate students and graduate students pursuing a degree in theater or music.

The application deadline is July 28th, 2023, and the application process involves writing an essay on why having a career in the arts is important to you.

Dark and Light Scholarship

This Bold.org exclusive scholarship is generously sponsored by Waynika Hall, a mother, and grandmother of mixed children. The scholarship will award $500 to one winner and is open to high school seniors from Georgia who are BIPOC and will be first-generation college students.

To apply, write about yourself, what you hope to study, and your goals after college. The application deadline for this scholarship is September 22, 2023.

Sharen and Mila Kohute Scholarship

The Sharen and Mila Kohute Scholarship recognizes that first-generation college students face unique obstacles due to a lack of family mentorship and resources.

The scholarship will award $1,000 to two winners. Any high school senior or undergraduate student in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, or Virginia who identifies as a woman and is a first-generation college student is eligible to apply for this scholarship.

The application deadline is October 15th, 2023. The application process asks applicants to tell us about someone who has impacted their life by helping them discover their full potential.

Corrick Family First-Gen Scholarship

The Corrick Family First-Gen Scholarship is open to any first-generation undergraduate student pursuing STEM.

This scholarship will award $1500 to one winner. The application deadline is August 18th, 2023. To apply, tell us what your career aspirations are and how your past experiences influenced you to pursue this path

Single-Parent Household Undergraduate Scholarship

This scholarship seeks to make higher education more accessible by supporting students from first-generation or single-income homes. Any high school senior or undergraduate student with a minimum GPA of 2.0 in Maryland, DC, Virginia, New Jersey, or Delaware from a low-income or single-parent household or is a first-generation college student can apply for this scholarship.

The Single-Parent Household Undergraduate Scholarship awards $1,000 to one winner. The application deadline is November 20th, 2023, and the application process asks you to tell us how you support your community and your future plans.

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Frequently Asked Questions About First-Generation College Students

Why are first-generation college students important?

First-generation students are trailblazers in their families, often the first to pursue higher education. Their commitment to overcoming socioeconomic and educational barriers sets an example for younger siblings, relatives, and peers, inspiring them to believe that higher education is attainable and within reach.

How can first-generation college students fund their education?

First-generation college students can pay for college with a combination of federal and state aid, institutional financial aid, and private scholarships.

What are the criteria for defining first-generation students?

First-generation students are college students whose parents did not graduate from a four-year college or university. Being a first-generation college student is a remarkable accomplishment that comes with its set of challenges and rewards.

Remember, you are not alone, and the strength you possess as a first-generation student can be a driving force to achieve success both academically and personally. Your journey as a first-generation college student will pave the way for future generations and inspire others to pursue their educational dreams.

To learn more about how to graduate from college debt-free, full-ride scholarships, and more, check out more blog posts on our Scholarship Blog!