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Articles / Applying to College / Scholarships for "First Generation" Students

Scholarships for "First Generation" Students

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Sept. 17, 2003

Question: I have heard of "First Generation" scholarships, and I am interested in one. Do you know where I could find information on those types of scholarships?

You may be thinking of the Coca-Cola Foundation First Generation Scholarships that go to students who are the first in their immediate families to attend college. About 400 colleges in 31 U.S. states participate, and here are the ground rules straight from the Web site:

Students interested in a Coca-Cola First Generation Scholarship should contact the student aid office at any one of the participating schools. To be eligible, the student

(a) must be the first in his or her immediate family to go to college,

(b) must demonstrate need,

(c) be accepted into full-time enrollment at the participating school of choice,

(d) possess a record of community service, and

(e) once selected by the college or university as Coca-Cola First Generation Scholarship recipient, the student is required to attain and then maintain a 3.0 academic record.

For more information about which schools take part, go to these sites:



There are some other institutions (e.g., the University of Colorado) that have their own programs for First Generation students, but various restrictions may apply. For instance, CU limits its scholarships to applicants who hail from certain minority backgrounds or from underrepresented counties in Colorado. If you are interested in a particular college, be sure to ask financial aid officials if there are any special considerations for students whose parents do not hold a bachelor's degrees.

A couple other points to keep in mind: While much of the scholarship money for First-Generation students seems to be earmarked for those who also have financial need, being "first-gen" can be a plus in the admission process, even if your family is fairly well off. Many of the most elite institutions are eager to diversify their campus communities by adding such students to the mix. (Though typically, the most competitive schools are particularly keeping an eye out for applicants who come from true blue-collar backgrounds, rather than for those whose parents may not have college diplomas hanging on the wall but who have been successful in professional fields like real estate, insurance, computer technology, retail, etc.)

Also, a student officially qualifies as "First Generation" if neither parent holds a bachelor's degree, even if both have earned an associate's degree and may be only several credits shy of a bachelor's. Usually, if a student lives with just one parent, it is that parent's educational background that determines whether the student is considered First Generation.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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