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Financial Aid Resources for First-Generation College Students

Nov 4, 2013 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Applying for financial aid is challenging for everyone. But first-generation college students—those who are the first in their families to go to college—often have it particularly hard. Without parents who are experienced in navigating the college application and financial aid process, these students are often on their own. However, there are a few important resources that can help.


Technically speaking, this isn’t just for first-generation college students. It’s for everyone. But your financial aid begins with the FAFSA, and if you don’t fill it out, you could be missing out on a major amount of aid you qualify for. Many colleges also use your FAFSA when deciding how much private, school-specific aid to give you. Regardless of whether you believe you qualify, fill out your FAFSA. You may qualify for more aid than you think. You can also estimate your federal student aid using the FAFSA calculator.


This organization offers individual counseling to prospective college students as early in the process as middle school. Counselors discuss student loans, financial aid options, and what affordability really means for an individual student after graduating college. The services are available through schools and community groups that partner with the organization in a handful of towns.

This website is designed specifically for students who are the first in their families to go to college. It offers an acronym translator for student aid terms; step-by-step help with the FAFSA; tips for students in foster care, homeless students, and the undocumented; and tips for staying in and succeeding in college. 

I’m First

This is an online community designed with first-generation college students in mind. It offers practical information on choosing a college, personal stories from other first-generation college students, and opportunities to connect with other students, ask questions, and get answers. The Center for Student Opportunity, the organization that runs this website, also offers an annual scholarship for first-generation college students.

First-generation college student scholarships

There are numerous organizations that offer scholarships for first-generation college students. Numerous colleges offer scholarships for first-generation students individually; the Sallie Mae First in My Family Fund, the Choose Your Future scholarship, and the Coca Cola First Generation Scholarship are examples. You can also use websites such as The College Board and FastWeb to search for more scholarships specific to you.

This website offers a section devoted to addressing common issues faced by first-generation college students. There are articles and accounts by college students; videocasts and interviews of students; and opportunities to connect with other students.

College financial aid offices

Many first-generation college students wind up going to in-state public colleges because those are the colleges their high schools have information about—and because they seem affordable. But many private colleges strongly seek to recruit first-generation students—and it’s possible you could get a better deal on an expensive private college than on your local state school. Don’t assume a private liberal arts school is out of your reach because you come from a low-income family.

It takes courage to be the first person in your family to go to a traditional or accredited online college. However, as difficult as it can be, there are resources available to help you get the financial aid, information, and support you need to succeed. Start online by searching for scholarships, researching individual colleges, and finding websites that offer support and information on the specific issues and challenges you face as a new college student. You may have to do some research to get the information you need—but the extra effort will be worth it.




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