Scholarships for First-Generation College Students


There is no question that paying for college isn’t easy. Financial aid can make attending college feasible for many students. For a general overview to the complex world of financial aid, check out this post: FAFSA, CSS Profile, IDOC, Oh My: A Guide to Financial Aid.


That being said, scholarships, which are usually merit based (as opposed to need-based financial aid), can also be a real relief to students who need help paying for college. In fact, for some students there are special resources available to help out. In the specific case of first-generation students attending college, there are many scholarships available that seek to reward students who have encountered adversity and are the first in their family to receive a higher education.


Introduction to scholarships for first-generation students

First-generation students are students who are the first in their family to attend college. As a result of being the first to go to college, some of these students may have increased financial burdens or a relative lack of familiarity with the college applications process.


This post will focus on scholarships that are available specifically for first-generation students. Please keep in mind that this list doesn’t include scholarships for students of other minority statuses (like students who are members of different ethnic minority groups). This list is also not exhaustive.


Mercedes-Benz Drive Your Future Scholarship

This scholarship gives preference to students who have shown triumph over adversity, and who come from underprivileged backgrounds. There are 10 scholarship awards given each year of up to $2000. Read up on the Mercedes-Benz Drive Your Future Scholarship here.


McKelvey Foundation

The McKelvey Foundation gives out 125 different $12,000 scholarships to high school seniors that will be the first in their family to attend college. The award is specifically for students that will attend a four-year college in their home state, so keep this in mind when deciding whether or not to apply. For more information, take a look at their website.


I’m First

The I’m First scholarship gives students an award of $1,000 that is renewable each year, totaling $4,000 of support throughout your undergraduate years. Applicants to this scholarship must exhibit a demonstrated need for financial and academic support. They also much exhibit strong writing and blogging skills—students who win the scholarship will write for the I’m First blog.


You must demonstrate leadership and community service experience as well, or a commitment to expanding educational opportunities to first-generation students. The scholarship is also limited to a list of schools; you can look at the full list here.


For more information about the I’m First scholarship, take a look at their website.


TELACU College Success Program

The TELACU College Success Program gives awards that range from $500 to $5,000. Priority for the awards is given to STEM majors, and students who win the award will also receive career guidance and mentorship. Get more information on this award here!



Buick Achievers Scholarship

This award is given to 1,110 students. Out of the winners, 100 students will receive $25,000 per year, and the rest will receive $2,000 per year. Those applying for this scholarship must plan to major in a field related to engineering, technology, design, business, or another automotive related field. You can find more information on the scholarship program here.


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The David C. Lizárraga Fellowship

Applicants to this scholarship must be pursuing an advanced degree, and priority is given to those pursuing a degree in Business or Engineering. Winners of this award will exhibit “outstanding leadership potential, a remarkable record of professional/extracurricular achievement, commitment to the development and economic empowerment of communities.”


While the amount of the award is not specified, in order to win, students must demonstrate need for financial resources in order to successfully complete a graduate program. Check out this site for more information.


While the cost of college can be scary, there is certainly no reason to lose all hope! There are plenty of scholarships out there for all sorts of students, even ones that you might not have even thought of (check out 10 Weird College Scholarships You Should Consider).


If you are having doubts about whether or not you will be able to afford college, be sure to talk to your guidance counselor or a teacher who understands your situation. You can talk to another mentor or adult as well—just make sure that you make your concerns heard! There is often more help available than you think, and having a team of adults there for support you can go a lot farther than you might think in terms of searching for scholarships.


Keep in mind that some individual colleges or groups might have scholarships available for first-generation students as well, so check with the groups you are associated with or with someone from your college! Lastly, some regional scholarships are available.


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For more advice about scholarships and financial aid, take a look at these blog posts:


Scholarships for Asian-American Students

Scholarships for African American Students

U.S. College Scholarships for International Students

A Guide to ROTC Scholarships

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Devin Barricklow
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Devin Barricklow is a Political Science and Creative Writing double major at Columbia University. She’s really excited to be able to share her expertise about the college process with students who need advice. When she isn’t writing for CollegeVine, she enjoys reading the poems of Mary Oliver, going to concerts in the city, or cooking (preferably something with lots of bok choy and ginger).