First-Generation College Students How to Survive and Thrive

The first question you may be asking is what are first-generation college students? The first-generation student is defined as a students parent or legal guardian that has not completed a bachelor degree at a university. You are a first-generation college student if you are the first in the family to attend a four-year college and to get a bachelor’s degree.

Being the first in your family to get a bachelor degree is a great honor and accomplishment.

Another question that is commonly asked is are you a first-generation college student if your parents dropped out?

Your Parents needed to attend any four-year college that offers a bachelor degree. If they did not graduate then you would be a first-generation college student in your family. The parents have to have a 4-year degree for you to be a 2nd gen student.

Difference between First-Generation and not First-Generation College Students

When do you start talking about college and actually attending a university, if you are a first-generation college student you may notice some differences between you and your friends.

Many of your friends at your school may have parents plus other family members who have attended college and are helping them out. This may be anything from helping them fill out scholarships and applications to paying for every part of their college career.

More than likely if you are a first-generation college student, then you are going to be figuring out most of this on your own. This doesn’t mean that your parents aren’t supportive, I just mean that they may not know exactly what to do.

Being a first-gen college student you may have had an older brother or sister that has gone before you. This is very helpful if you do have an older sibling because they are the one who had to take the burden of figuring everything out and they can help you.

If you are a first-gen college student it doesn’t make you any worse off than any of the other students. I’m not writing this post to tell you about the bad things about being a first-generation college student, I’m telling you about the good things that can come from it.

Sometimes this is the type of thing that may cause you to have some nerves about actually going to college. You may even be the first person in your family in general to attend college and that is a big task to take on. Here are some things I can help you get through being a first-generation college student.


Believe it or not, there are actually many scholarships that are designed for first-generation college students.

Now obviously, most scholarships don’t require you to have a good GPA, ACT score, etc. So you’re not going to simply get a scholarship just because of your first-generation college student.

You’re going to get the scholarship because you are smart and determined.

Basically, most of the scholarship committees want to help successful and intelligent first-generation college students get through school because they know they may have possibly more financial need than others.

This is something that is great because you are getting recognized for making the effort to get through college even though you are the first generation.

In this day and age, it is very common for this to happen because it is way more common for people to attend college now than it was for our parents’ generation. Basically, the percentage of high school students who end up attending college now is much higher than it used to be.

The first thing that you can do to start finding these types of scholarships is to look and see if your high school or university specifically has scholarships for being a first-generation college student.

You can also look into scholarships at your parent’s place of employment. Many companies offer children of employees scholarship money. It is usually not a ton of money but even a $1,000 pays for your books.

If you’re still having trouble finding any, which I doubt you will, your best bet is to just look on the Internet and search for any scholarships that might apply to you that is for first-generation college students.

You can check out this website called Scholly. It is an adaptive scholarship matching engine that connects you with scholarships. This will help you find money in minutes instead of months.

Apply to any scholarships that you can because in the end it’s not gonna hurt you. All that is going to do is give you the opportunity to maybe have more money to attend college.

The scholarship committee really likes to see students who work hard in high school to make sure that they can attend college knowing that they are first-generation students.

I personally think that in the end, it’s way more beneficial for you to find and fill out your scholarship yourself that you can appreciate them more. You’re going to be an adult now and you really don’t need your parents to be doing everything for you anyway.

Just make sure that you were on top of things and really searching applying for scholarships as often as you can. Also, make sure that you are aware of all the due dates for turning everything in on time.


Unless you have an older sibling who has attended college, it is likely that you and your parents have never had to deal with student loans before.

If you are in need of student loans, make sure that you do all of the appropriate research and talk to any person that you need to order to fully understand which are the best options and what you need to do in order to receive them.

Paying for college is one of the biggest aspects of being a student. Just because your parents didn’t attend college doesn’t mean that you can’t attend.

You need to manage your life and this means applying for scholarships, taking out loans, and filling out FAFSA.

FAFSA is also something that is very confusing.

Now, FAFSA Is going to be a lot different now than it was in the past generations. Obviously, in the past generation, it wasn’t even online and it was a very simple process.

FAFSA is very confusing, time-consuming, and pretty much intense.

You have to basically tell them everything about you and your parents’ entire financial situation. It is very useful and they do the best they can to give aid to those who need it, but you just have to make sure that you put the time and energy into it so that you can actually get something out of it.

You definitely want to ask for some help from your friends, advisors and any current students before you start filling out FAFSA.

You basically need to tell the truth and give them as much information as you can so that you get the proper amount of aid that you need.

FAFSA is needed for most scholarship and financial aid in general.

You can read this article below where we go more in-depth on FAFSA.

A very important thing to pay attention to every summer and around Christmas time is going to be your statement of account.

Your statement of account is simply going to show how much in total you cover tuition, housing, food, etc. But is also going to show the applied financial aid and scholarships. This means that it basically shows you the entire amount that you actually owe.

It will also give you the due date and how much late fees will be applied if you don’t follow the due date. This information is so important and it really isn’t your parents’ job to be paying attention to it.

It is your job.

You can always talk to your advisor with the financial aid office at your school to see if your school will allow you to have payment plans for your tuition. If not, you make sure that you have tuition paid by the deadline or you will not be attending that university.

This is something that your parents are not gonna have any familiarity with unless they have other children in college, so make sure you’re on top of it so that you can keep attending school.

Many schools also assume that the parents are always paying for everything, so sometimes they will send them information instead of you. It is important to take care of all this and make sure that they are sending it to the correct person who is actually paying for it whether that is you your parents or someone else.

You basically want to make sure that you’re always on top of everything and receiving all the information that you need to pay for school.

Ask for Help

You need to ask for help at school if you are a first-gen student.


  • Ask the professor for help I wished I did this more my first year
  • Teacher aids or TA’s are there to help so meet with them regularly and share papers or homework with them before turning it in for a grade. They will help you correct things so you can get a better grade
  • Tutoring through the University if you need help just ask your advisor where to find them
  • Other students in a class can help you or form a study group with a few of them

Personal and emotional help

  • The school counselors are there to help you so ask for help
  • Call your parents to seek support
  • Friends at college

Financial help

  • Financial advisors at the university can help
  • The internet is loaded with helpful information
  • College admissions department


Overall just because you have a couple more obstacles getting to school, paying for everything, and mapping out your path to success will make you an overall better person. It will also make you a better student because you are doing things on your own, and figuring things out.

Applying for scholarships and schools on your own really gives you such a feeling of satisfaction.

To know that you got to school all by yourself and that you deserve all of the scholarships and awards that you received really makes all of your hard work pay off.

I actually received an alumni scholarship for being a first-generation college student and it really made a difference in the overall impact of my college career. Instead of being embarrassed about it or making it a bigger deal than it is, take pride in the fact that you are this successful on your own and look for opportunities that you can get out of it.

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