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5 College Application Tips for First Generation Students

A young woman walks down the sidewalk carrying a laptop and backpack.

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

Having gone through many auditions and college applications as a music and science major, I have learned quite a few things to help me through the process whilst being a first generation college student.

Here are some things that, looking back, helped me through my college applications.

Reach out for help

In high school, you have to take a certain amount of language arts courses or creative writing courses. When building up your skills for writing argumentative essays, these writing skills can be beneficial to help you with writing your essays for Common App applications or scholarships. 

When I started writing my Common App essay, I was lost. I did not know what the essay should be about and how I should write it to stick out from the other students’ applications for the same university/college.

I reached out to my English teacher from high school, and she was able to read and comment on my paper and give me ideas to make my essay stick out more to the admissions office. The advice from my teacher helped and I was able to create a unique essay based off of my passions and life experiences. 

When reaching out to my teacher for advice, I also reached out to my high school counselor. When I went to my counselor, she let me know of the resources my high school was giving to the students at my school.

They had someone who was working for admissions at a nearby college come in and help students write their essays and give them tips. If I never reached out for help, I wouldn’t have known about these helpful opportunities.

Search for scholarships

As a first generation student, there are plenty of opportunities to find scholarships. 

Local scholarships are the type of scholarships that you can find in your town from different clubs or organizations. You can find a list of scholarship openings in your town by looking at the town hall page. I was able to find many from banks, leadership clubs, and stores.

Many students don’t know about local scholarships but often times, they give you more of a chance of winning since it is based off of your town only and is not nationwide.

Scholarships can also be found online at Niche or College Board. There are many different websites like and more, but always important ask your school counselor or someone who has applied for scholarships to see if the website is a scam. 

When looking into these websites, there will most likely be a search bar for the types of scholarships you are looking for. When you type in first generation student scholarships, they are most likely going to pop up. 

Another thing that is important when filling out these scholarships is that when you write an essay, try to write about something that you can most likely use on other scholarship essays. You could write about your passions, your goals that you’re aiming for, etc.

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Make your essay personal to you

During high school, I was a part of many different clubs ranging from leadership, music, and science. It is important to feel out many different skills you may have because something may pop up that you never knew you were good at. 

When writing my Common App essay, I thought of what I loved doing most. A problem for me was that I am passionate about many things.

I ended up writing about the possible careers I am most passionate about. I also added how I am a first generation college student. I explained how hard it was to live in almost two different cultures but how I adapted and found ways to use both in my life.

Research first generation student programs

I also want to touch on how important it is to research first generation college student opportunities/programs near you.

When I researched these types of programs nearby, I found many different types of scholarships/programs that I was able to apply to that would help with my college career. I was able to successfully receive some of these scholarships and they were renewable, meaning I would most likely have them every year. 

College is becoming more and more expensive every year. As a first generation college student, it has been even harder to pay for college. Look for opportunities that can help you financially because you deserve a college career. 

Fill out the FAFSA

With it being harder to pay for college as a first generation student, it is important to file for FAFSA support. With this Federal Student Aid form, high school students and college students file this form to determine their eligibility for Federal Student Aid to help pay for college. 

Sticker prices for many colleges are overwhelming, especially for first generation college student families, but it is important to know that the colleges you apply to will most likely give you financial support. 

It was hard going through many scholarship applications, writing essays, and applying to many colleges while not knowing if I was doing it right. I am thankful for having the help from my high school, local scholarships, and FAFSA.

This led me to see hope in being able to pay for college and pursue my passions for future careers I can’t wait to accomplish. To conclude, to successfully go through college applications as a first generation student, it is important to:

  • Know that your high school teachers/counselors are always there to help
  • Research local scholarships and first generation college student scholarships/programs
  • Use your life experiences as a first generation student in your  essays
  • Reuse essays for scholarship applications
  • Fill out the FAFSA
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