This month, we got to talk with the members of First Graduate’s scholarship team, Jonathan Aleman and Ana Isabel Pérez, to learn more about the challenges first-generation students face when applying for scholarships and how the team helps students overcome these hurdles.

Jonathan and Ana are both first-generation college students and want to empower students from similar backgrounds to advocate for themselves. Both credit much of their success to the scholarships they received that allowed them to graduate without debt and at the college of their choice.

The Challenges Students Face Applying for Scholarships

Applying for scholarships can be daunting and time-consuming for students in the best of conditions. Finding and applying for scholarships requires time, research, preparation, and hard work. This is on top of college applications, senior class loads, AP tests, extracurriculars, and any after-school jobs students may have.

To apply for a scholarship, students must meet the eligibility requirements, write compelling essays, gather recommendation letters from teachers and mentors, and submit all the required documents on time.

Many students don’t realize until it’s too late how much college will actually cost since most scholarship applications are due before they receive the information detailing their financial aid package.

Finding scholarships

In addition to having to combat burnout, finding scholarships to apply to isn’t always a straightforward process either. 

Many scholarships are based on the apparent need of the student, which often paints a false portrait of their actual financial situation. In addition, the income of families living in places with a high cost of living doesn’t accurately reflect what they contribute to their child’s education.

Undocumented students cannot receive federal grants and must apply for state grants that leave a deficit of anywhere from five to eight thousand dollars.

In addition to these challenges, there is also the challenge of finding enough information about available scholarships and navigating through the complex application process. This can be especially difficult for students who do not have access to reliable resources or guidance from mentors.

These hurdles result in many unclaimed scholarships because students don’t apply for them.

How FG’s Scholarship Team Helps

Despite how difficult they can be to get, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of scholarships. Especially for a first-generation student, a scholarship can be the difference between being able to go to college and not.

That’s where First Graduate’s scholarship team comes in. They start with a scholarship presentation with a do’s and don’ts list of applying and different tips and tricks to get students into the right mindset.

Then Ana and Jonathan create Excel sheets or provide students with a list of different scholarships. These lists highlight the scholarships the team has worked with or that past students have received and recommended. 

After that, it becomes a case-by-case situation, helping students to find the ones that fit them based on their unique situations.

It’s sometimes easier to pick just one large scholarship to apply for, but those are generally the most competitive. Students often put all their eggs in one basket rather than take the time to apply for all the smaller scholarships. The team helps combat this by taking much of the legwork out of finding more niche scholarships.

The team also holds three-hour support sessions in the evening where students can show up virtually or in-person to either work on writing or re-purposing essays. In addition to that, the students know they’re always available for one-on-one sessions to break down the numbers and cost of college.

Finding Success

Ana also says finding scholarships and working with the scholarship team is meaningful beyond the financial benefits. 

First-generation students are forced to do and figure out many things independently and sometimes struggle to find and lean on the support they need. But through connecting with the scholarship team, they “eventually realize that can ask for help, it’s safe to ask for help. And deserve to get that support that need.”

With the help and support of their community,  students can learn to believe in themselves and see what they’re capable of. 

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