A Guide to Finding Financial Aid for First-Generation College Students

As if the process of finding the right school, sending in an application and paying tuition were not difficult enough, enrolling in a university as a first-generation college student comes with its own set of challenges. Many of these challenges involve financial obstacles that leave first-generation students struggling to afford tuition. With the help of financial aid and scholarships, however, many students find that previously unaffordable schools become feasible options. The key is finding the right financial help for you.

Your first opportunity for financial aid may come alongside your acceptance to a university. Most colleges provide need-based and merit-based scholarships. Contact the financial aid office or an admissions counselor at each of your top schools to see what they have to offer and how much aid you can qualify for. Still, this aid may not be enough to make for a feasible price tag. Make sure to search and apply for grants from the government and scholarships through other providers. Many federal and independent financial aid providers are listed on the UNCF website.

Over the last 75 years, UNCF has helped more than half a million students earn college degrees.

Scholarships have been proven, time and time again, to be the recipe for success for many low-income, first-generation African American college students, particularly ones from UNCF. UNCF provides students with both need-based and merit-based scholarships and helps you access scholarships and grants through the federal government and hundreds of other organizations. As the nation’s largest private scholarship provider to students of color, UNCF awards more than $100 million in scholarships each year to more than 10,000 students at more than 1,100 schools across the country. Over the last 75 years, UNCF has helped more than half a million students earn college degrees. We encourage first-generation students to check out our 37 member HBCUs, which we support directly. HBCUs in particular excel at retaining and graduating first-generation, low-income students. You can search and apply for scholarships on our website. 

If you’re still having your doubts, look no further than our student testimonies for inspiration and encouragement. Donovan Burman II, for example, is a first-generation college graduate. At least three generations back, no one in his family had a college degree or, in many cases, a high school diploma. During a UNCF Orlando Mayor’s Luncheon, Dr. Michael L. Lomax announced that Donovan had been chosen to receive a $20,000 scholarship, which he used to enter UNCF-member HBCU Morehouse College in Atlanta. Attending the Orlando Mayor’s Luncheon four years later as a college grad, Donovan said that the UNCF scholarship had made his education possible and that he would be forever grateful.

So what’s holding you back? Apply for a UNCF scholarship, and see how far a college education can take you. We’re cheering you on!