Nine out of 10 low-income, first-generation students don’t graduate from college on time, according to a 2016 report from the Education Advisory Board.
EJ Carrion was not among them. Carrion won the full-ride Gates Millennium Scholars Scholarship, allowing him to graduate debt-free from the University of Oklahoma in 2011.
Seeking first-generation college student scholarships as a high school student put him on the right track — and it can put you on the right track, too.
4 ways to win first-generation college student scholarships
First-generation students are much less likely to graduate within six years when they come from a low-income home. The challenge of affording college makes it all the more difficult to complete coursework, according to an exhaustive 2016 report from the Pell Institute.
Here’s what he learned in the process.
1. Start with the longer applications
By going after the bigger awards first, you’ll put yourself through the ringer. But that effort will pay off.
Carrion, now the founder of Student Success Agency, said he sees too many high school students apply to only a handful of scholarships before resorting to student loans.
“Start by applying for lengthy ones because you can use that information as the process continues,” he said. “For the Gates scholarship, I was required to submit eight essays, but once [I] completed [them], I used them for other applications as well.”
Carrion said many students wait until they’re accepted into college to begin looking for scholarships. This puts you at a disadvantage. Instead, start as early as possible.
“My mother and I were looking at those scholarships before I [was] even [eligible to] apply,” he said. “This gave us more preparation time and strategic direction because we knew what they were looking for, and I had time in high school to make those things happen. ”
If you’re a high school junior, for example, explore scholarship opportunities for high school seniors. You can get a handle on common requirements and use the time you have to meet them. You might work on your grades, take on a student leadership role, or even pick up a wacky talent to qualify for scholarships.
2. Apply for scholarships that reward your strengths
Understanding that applying for college scholarships is a numbers game, Carrion took his strategy one step further. He applied for more than 30 scholarships that required an essay, a resume, or letters of recommendation. He hadn’t graduated in the top 20 percent of his high school class, so he needed to stand out in another way.
Carrion chose the 30-plus scholarships because each had a mission related to diversity, leadership involvement, or community service. Not coincidentally, these were his three biggest strengths.
“I tell students the key is to find scholarships that align with your strengths beyond GPA,” he said. “However, if you have excellent grades and do well on standardized tests, clearly those types of scholarships should be your priority.”
As you search for scholarships for first-generation college students, read about the organizations that offer them. If you can identify with the type of student that the organization is aiming to award, you could be a good fit.
Here are four examples of first-generation college student scholarships that are clear about their intended audience:
- Cynthia E. Morgan Memorial Scholarship Fund: For Maryland high school students planning to pursue a career in the medical field
- Bay Area Minority Law Student Scholarship Program: For underrepresented minority students looking to study law in and near San Francisco
- Hispanic Scholarship Consortium Scholars Program: For Texas residents (not necessarily U.S. citizens) of Hispanic or Latino heritage
- TMCF | Walmart Foundation First-Generation Scholars Program: For high school seniors who are seeking to become the first college graduate in their families
As you can see, scholarship opportunities for first-generation students can be specific. Seek out those that are right up your alley, that way you’ll increase your chances of winning them.
3. Ask for help at home and online
If you’re a first-generation student, you likely don’t have many resources at your disposal. You might not even have a family member or close friend who graduated from college. But don’t discount the possibility that they can still help you during the pre-college process.
“The biggest thing a student can do is open a consistent dialogue with a caring adult about their college plans,” Carrion said. “My mother was that person for me. She kept me accountable and followed up with me daily to make sure I was on track with deadlines and paperwork.”
Whether you can find a family member or mentor who has the time to help you navigate this process, there are more ways to find support. Beyond Carrion’s agency, College Greenlight and Strive for College can help you prepare for application season. The First Generation Foundation offers support once you’re enrolled, too.
You can also find local nonprofit organizations for first-generation students via FirstGEN Fellows.
4. Check with your state and school
Carrion had the fortune of having all of his college expenses — tuition, room and board, and books — paid for by the time he reached campus. Not all first-generation students have it so good.
It’s likely you’ll show up for class wondering how to finance the rest of your education. Before you decide if private student loans are your best option, look to your state and your school for support.
The Florida Department of Education, for example, offers its residents the First Generation Matching Grant Program. You can find your state’s related scholarship and grant programs through this tool from the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.
You might also get aid by simply calling up or walking into the financial aid office of your prospective school. For example, Harvard Business School recently reported a multimillion dollar fund for students who are the first in their family to attend college.
You don’t have to be among the elite to secure such aid. Here are three public universities with annual awards for first-generation students:
- Texas A&M University’s Regents’ Scholars Program: As much as $5,000 per year for up to four years
- University of Colorado-Boulder’s First Generation Grant: Between $100 and $1,000 per semester for up to 10 semesters
- University of California-Berkeley’s George A. Miller Scholars Program: A stipend of $8,000 spread over two years
The bonus of scoring scholarships for first-generation college students via your state or your school is that they typically come with additional support. At the University of Colorado-Boulder, for example, grant winners have access to increased counseling on campus as well as opportunities in the community.
Finding scholarships for first-generation college students
Carrion said being the first person in his single-parent home to attend college was all the motivation he needed to find a way to afford it.
“Being the first in your family means you have the opportunity to inspire and change the mindsets for those before you and after you,” he said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity that you should not take lightly.”
Carrion’s graduation from college led to two more degrees in the family. Both his mom and his younger brother followed in his footsteps.
Keep your own motivation in mind when applying for first-generation college student scholarships. Sharing your personal story in applications can help you stand out from other scholarship applicants.
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1 Important Disclosures for College Ave.
College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.
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3 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. If you choose to complete an application, we will conduct a hard credit pull, which may affect your credit score. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.15% effective Jan 1, 2021 and may increase after consummation.
4 Important Disclosures for EdvestinU.
EDvestinU is a product of the nonprofit New Hampshire Higher Education Loan Corporation (dba The NHHEAF Network) NMLS ID#1527348.
APR range and repayment rates displayed assume a $10,000 loan disbursed in two equal disbursements. APR low assumes immediate repayment and 7 year repayment. APR high assumes deferred repayment and 15 year repayment. APR’s presented include a .50% interest rate reduction for electing to have payments automatically deducted from a bank account. The interest rate reduction for authorizing our servicer to automatically deduct monthly payments from a savings or checking account will not reduce the monthly payment, but will reduce the monthly finance charge, resulting in a lower total cost of loan. All examples are provided for educational purposes and actual terms may vary based on credit history, loan amount, applicable repayment term, and chosen repayment plan and method. Please note that the interest rate on variable rate programs may increase or decrease over time. The variable rate example assumes the same standard rate for the life of the loan. The NHHEAF Network reserves the right to modify or cancel its program at any time.
Eligibility: Dependent and independent U.S. citizen students. Currently residents of Washington and California are not eligible for EDvestinU programs.
Loan Limits: Minimum loan amount of $1,000.
Repayment: Standard or graduated repayment options available during repayment; 7, 10, or 15 year term selected by the borrower.
Cosigner Release: Cosigner release allowed if an account is in current standing, after 36 months of consecutive & on-time payments with a borrower FICO >749 for EDvestinU Private Student Loans and minimum income requirement of $30,000 with no foreclosures, repossessions, wage garnishments, unpaid tax liens, unpaid judgments or other public records having an open balance exceeding $100 during the last 7 years. The borrower must not currently be involved in bankruptcy proceeding or had any bankruptcy filings during the past 10 years and cannot have any defaults on education loans.
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6 Important Disclosures for Ascent Student Loans.
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Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are made by Funding University which is a for-profit enterprise. Funding University is not affiliated with the school you are attending or any other learning institution. None of the information contained in Funding University’s website constitutes a recommendation, solicitation or offer by Funding University or its affiliates to buy or sell any securities or other financial instruments or other assets or provide any investment advice or service.
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UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 10.66% annual percentage rate (“APR”) (with autopay), variable rates from 1.12% to 11.23% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 10.90% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.10% to 11.34% APR (with autopay). MBA AND LAW SCHOOL LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.08% to 10.86% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.05% to 11.29% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 10.66% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.20% to 11.23% APR (with autopay). For variable rate loans, the variable interest rate is derived from the one-month LIBOR rate plus a margin and your APR may increase after origination if the LIBOR increases. Changes in the one-month LIBOR rate may cause your monthly payment to increase or decrease. Interest rates for variable rate loans are capped at 13.95%, unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law. Lowest rates are reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. If approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, the repayment option you select, the term and amount of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. The SoFi 0.25% autopay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. Information current as of 4/1/2021. Enrolling in autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. SoFi Lending Corp., licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. NMLS #1121636 (>www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org).
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Citizens Bank Disclosures
Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.15% – 11.01% (1.15% – 10.24 APR)Fixed interest rates range from 4.18% – 11.70% (4.18% – 10.83% APR).
Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 10.66% (1.89% – 10.41% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.64% – 11.23%% (4.64% – 10.95% APR).
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Medical/Dental Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 8.02% (1.89% – 7.72% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.28% – 9.24% (4.28% – 8.94% APR).
Parent Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.97% – 7.06% (1.97% – 7.06% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.94% – 8.58% (4.94% – 8.58% APR).
Bar Study Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 4.44% – 9.58% (4.44% – 9.52% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 7.39% – 12.94% (7.40% – 12.83% APR).
Medical Residency Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.53% – 7.03% (3.53% – 6.76% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 6.99% – 10.49% (6.98% – 10.09% APR).
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Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer. Borrowers should carefully review federal benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are considering possible loan forgiveness options, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision on our website including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.
Eligibility Criteria: Applicants must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or eligible non-citizen with a creditworthy U.S. citizen or permanent resident co-signer. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer is required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. Citizens Bank private student loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/Promissory Note, verification of application information, and if applicable, self-certification form, school certification of the loan amount, and student’s enrollment at a Citizens Bank participating school.
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