5 Steps to Get Scholarships for First-Generation Students

Last Updated on May 26, 2023

Your African-American female student with natural hair is holding folders and notebooks in front of her. She has glasses on and is wearing a pink sweater.

For many first-generation college students, pursuing a degree can feel intimidating. In addition, the rising cost of college can make it challenging to afford tuition and the many other expenses associated with attending college. 

The good news is that scholarships are available specifically for first-generation students. They can help alleviate the financial burden and make pursuing a degree easier.

In this article, we'll explore the steps that you can take to find and apply for scholarships for first-generation students. From researching scholarship opportunities to preparing a strong application, we'll provide tips and guidance to help you navigate the process and increase your chances of receiving financial aid for school.

1. Understand How Scholarships Work

Colleges, universities, foundations, and other private organizations offer scholarships for first-generation students who want to pursue a college degree. These scholarships can be merit-based, need-based, or a combination of both.

Merit-based scholarships are granted based on your academic or extracurricular achievements, including good grades, test scores, athletic or artistic accomplishments, or community service. These scholarships reward and encourage excellence, and they usually require students to meet specific eligibility criteria to be considered.

On the other hand, need-based scholarships are awarded according to your financial need. Factors like your family income and assets are evaluated for these scholarships and factor into the eligibility decision. 

Eligibility for need-based scholarships is typically determined after you complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or other financial aid applications like the CSS Profile. Need-based scholarships can help cover tuition, fees, room and board, and other college expenses for students who may not have the financial means to pay for college independently.

2. Look for Scholarships in the Right Places

Finding scholarships that are a good fit for your needs and goals is crucial in maximizing your chances of receiving financial aid. Otherwise, if you apply for scholarships that aren’t fit, you could be wasting your time and effort. So do the work to find the best scholarships that fit your needs and match your eligibility.

Start by looking for different types of scholarships available for first generation students. These specialized scholarships are designed to support students with your background and experiences. 

From there, it's also important to look for other scholarships that might be a good fit for you, regardless of whether they are specifically targeted toward first-generation students or not. By looking beyond scholarships for first-generation students, you can increase your chances of finding more money to pay for school.

Here are a few tips to help you find scholarships that match your needs and interests. But remember, you’ll want to start your search as early as possible. Some scholarships have early deadlines, so starting early ensures you have ample time to find the best options and submit your applications on time.

Tips to help you find the best scholarships for you:

  1. Consult your high school guidance counselor: Your high school guidance counselor can be an invaluable resource for discovering scholarships that match your interests, skills, and background. They can also provide guidance on the application process and give you a letter of recommendation if needed.
  2. Utilize scholarship search engines: Online scholarship search engines can help you find scholarships that match your qualifications and interests. We always recommend our friends at Cappex for the most up-to-date list of scholarships and other tools to support your college search and funding journey. 
  3. Check with your college or university: Many higher education institutions offer scholarships to incoming and current students. Contact the financial aid office at your college or university to learn about these available scholarships and how to apply.
  4. Seek scholarships aligned with your interests and career goals: Some scholarships target specific fields of study or career paths. By focusing on scholarships that align with your interests and career goals, you can increase your chances of being awarded financial aid. 
  5. Apply for as many scholarships as possible: The more scholarships you apply for, the greater your chances of receiving financial assistance. Don't be discouraged if you don't receive every scholarship you apply for; persistence is key. Keep trying and continue to apply to increase your chances of obtaining financial aid.

3. Prepare Your Scholarship Application Materials

When applying for scholarships, it's crucial to provide a strong application package that highlights your achievements, goals, and qualifications. While application requirements may vary, there are some common materials often needed for scholarship applications.

Common Materials Required for Scholarship Applications:

  1. Transcripts
  2. Letters of recommendation
  3. Essays or personal statements
  4. Proof of financial need
  5. Resume (in some cases)
  6. List of extracurricular activities or community service projects (in some cases)
  7. Other supporting documents (as required)

Ensure you carefully review the application requirements for each scholarship and submit all requested materials in a timely and complete manner. 

4. Apply for Your Scholarships

Following these tips and putting together a strong scholarship application can increase your chances of being selected for a scholarship and achieving your academic goals.

Tips for Creating a Strong Application:

  1. Read the instructions carefully: Thoroughly read and understand the scholarship application instructions. Make sure you know the required materials, submission deadline, and any specific guidelines.
  2. Highlight your achievements: Emphasize your academic achievements, extracurricular activities, community service, and other relevant accomplishments in your application to showcase your strengths and qualifications.
  3. Be authentic: When writing essays or personal statements, be genuine and share your unique perspective. Present your personal story and experiences in a way that highlights your strengths and values.
  4. Pay attention to formatting: Organize your application so it's easy to read and free of errors. Use proper grammar and spelling, and adhere to any formatting guidelines specified in the application instructions.
  5. Get feedback: Ask someone to proof read your application. This extra step will help ensure your application is well-written and effectively communicates your qualifications and goals.
  6. Submit your application on time: Make sure to submit your application before the deadline and double-check that you have included all required materials. Late or incomplete applications may not be considered for the scholarship.

5. Consider Following Up on Your Scholarship Applications

After you’ve sent in your applications, it can be helpful to follow up on them. Following up demonstrates your continued interest and gives you a chance to check that your application materials were received by the scholarship committee. 

Here are some tips for following up on a scholarship application:

  1. Wait for an appropriate amount of time: Give the scholarship committee some time to process your application before following up. Typically, waiting for 2-4 weeks after the deadline is reasonable.
  2. Be polite and professional: When you follow up, maintain a polite and professional tone. Remember that the scholarship committee is likely busy reviewing many applications, so it's essential to be respectful of their time.
  3. Use the appropriate method of communication: If the scholarship provider has specified a preferred method of communication, be sure to use that method when following up. If no specific method has been mentioned, email is usually the most appropriate choice.
  4. Accept their response: If the scholarship committee informs you that decisions have not yet been made or that they are unable to provide an update, be patient and understanding. Keep in mind that the decision-making process can take time.

Following up on a scholarship application can show your dedication and commitment to pursuing the scholarship opportunity. But most importantly, remember to be patient, respectful, and professional in your communication with the scholarship committee.

Closing Thoughts on Scholarships for First-Generation Students

Scholarships can make a college degree much more attainable, so it’s worth the time it takes to do the work in finding and applying for them. Every dollar you can win in scholarship money is a dollar you’ll not have to pay back later. So, take advantage of that free money when you can. 

As you begin to look for scholarships, a great place to start is with the Cappex First-Generation Scholarship. It takes under a minute to apply for this $1,000 scholarship, and you can use it to help pay for travel to campus visits, pre-college summer programs, or supplies to help you prepare for college. Just click the button below to get started. 

Source: Cappex

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