Online Colleges with the Best Financial Support for First-Generation Students

Best Financial Support for First-Generation Students - featured image

First-generation students face unique challenges that typical college students take for granted! They need guidance in navigating college life. Low-income first-gen students also need resources to boost their financial capacity.

First-gen students can apply for FAFSA and state financial aid programs. They also have to access institutional scholarships and outreach programs dedicated to them.

As a first-gen student, you must advantage of all types of financial aid options. Doing these can reduce your cost of attendance so you can succeed in college and earn your degree.

Featured Programs

Below are the top colleges and universities with excellent programs for first-gen students:

Best Financial Support for First-Generation Students - fact

California State University – Fullerton

Fullerton, CA


Tuition and Fees: $7,074 (in-state); $18,954 (out-of-state)

Average Financial Aid:  $11,929

Percentage of Financial Aid Met: 92%

About 30% of Cal State Fullerton students are first-gen students. Offering its full support, the school implemented three main initiatives:

  • The “I Am First program” offers career readiness knowledge and a $250 scholarship.
  • Abrego Future Scholars Program awards up to $1,500.
  • The Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) provides:
    • Pre-admission counseling services
    • Admission support services
    • Financial aid advice
  • TRIO Student Support Services is a federally-funded, first-gen program.

University at Buffalo

Buffalo, NY


Tuition and Fees: $10,781 (in-state); $30,571 (out-of-state)

Average Financial Aid: $9,389

Percentage of Financial Aid Met: 49%

UB’s first-gen students comprise 18% of its total undergraduate population. The school’s primary service is the Proud To Be First program. It supports students’ educational, personal, and professional growth.

The school also features financial resources, such as:

  • Durand Scholarship
  • Maureen R. L. Mussenden Scholarship
  • Diversity Scholarship

Other student services include:

  • First Gen Peer Mentoring Program
  • First-Generation Summer Bridge Program
  • McNair Scholars Program
  • TRiO Student Support Services

Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA


Tuition and Fees: $19,835 (in-state); $38,651 (out-of-state)

Average Financial Aid: $7,923

Percentage of Financial Aid Met: 69%

First-gen students at Penn State comprise about 25% of its total undergraduate population. They make up the majority of University Park and Commonwealth campus students.

The Student Success Center spearheads Penn State’s first-gen student-related activities. Activities include the National First-Generation College Celebration and the First-Gene Student Support Summit. Penn State is a recognized First-Gen Forward institution!

Penn State has a student-run First-Gen Advocates mentorship program. It also runs the popular First Gen Scholars Program.

The University of Alabama

Tuscaloosa, AL


Tuition and Fees: $11,900 (in-state); $33,200 (out-of-state)

Average Financial Aid: $14,964

Percentage of Financial Aid Met: 56%

First-gen Blazers enjoy the stellar support provided by UAB. They can access these financial programs:

  • Legacy Scholars program grants five $500 scholarships. Students also enjoy mentorship services, hold monthly meetings, and join social events.
  • First-gen scholarship programs, such as:
    • Saban First in the Family Scholarship
    • Burton First Generation Endowed Scholarship
    • Elizabeth Wilson Moore First Generation Scholars Endowed Scholarship
    • Jackson Watts Moore First Generation Scholars Endowed Scholarship
  • Academic support programs like:
    • TRIO programs
    • Vulcan Materials Academic Success Center (VMASC)

University of Utah

Salt Lake City, UT


Tuition and Fees: $10,287 (in-state); $33,045 (out-of-state)

Average Financial Aid: $10,483

Percentage of Financial Aid Met: 56%

The University of Utah’s undergraduate population consists of 25% first-gen students. They enjoy student support services and programs. 

The school’s Office for First Generation Access started in 2019. Today, it continues to promote an inclusive, diverse, and humane campus culture.

The First-Gen Scholars is a popular initiative. It features peer mentoring, academic advising, and skills development sessions. Other programs include:

  • Upward Bound prepares low-income high school students for college life
  • TRIO delivers admission-to-graduation student support services

University of Washington – Bothell

Bothell, WA


Tuition and Fees: $12,643 (in-state); $41,997 (out-of-state)

Average Financial Aid: $17,670

Percentage of Financial Aid Met: 76%

UW Bothell encourages first-generation students to get federal, state, and institutional financial aid. The school also features dedicated first-gen programs, including:

  • The First-Generation New Student Network features student exchange information. Students also enjoy the give-and-receive support and get access to great resources.
  • The Diversity Center offers where emergency food pantry services.
  • The Financial Aid Office gives access to first-gen financial aid programs.

UW Bothell offers health and wellness services. They provide academic support programs like career services, writing services, and success coaching.

University of North Carolina – Charlotte

Charlotte, NC


Tuition and Fees: $7,214 (in-state); $21,338 (out-of-state)

Average Financial Aid: $8,151

Percentage of Financial Aid Met: 51%

The First Gen Niners is a student organization offering campus resources and services. and amenities for first-gen students. On National First-Generation College Celebration Day, UNC Charlotte’s first-gen students take center state! They volunteer at a local hospital. They host a campus cookout in the campus food pantry. Graduation ceremonies are also held for first-gen students.

Oklahoma State University

Stillwater, OK


Tuition and Fees: $9,244 (in-state); $24,764 (out-of-state)

Average Financial Aid: $9,245

Percentage of Financial Aid Met: 67%

Oklahoma State University is a First-Gen Forward institution. It has excellent programs and practices toward the promotion of first-gen students. The Office of First Year Success and the Division of Institutional Diversity contribute to this milestone.

Oklahoma State University’s first-gen programs include:

  • RISE program
  • Upward Bound
  • McNair Scholars Program
  • TRIO Student Support Services

First-gen students also get coaching services on campus. The First2Go program offers campus connection mentoring and financial planning.

University of California – Berkeley

Berkeley, CA


Tuition and Fees: $15,891 (in-state); $48,465 (out-of-state)

Average Financial Aid: $28,603

Percentage of Financial Aid Met: 85%

The Berkeley Career Engagement offers resources and services to help first-generation students succeed. UC Berkeley also offers first-gen students more student support services through the following:

  • Office of Undergraduate Admissions for useful admission-to-graduation information
  • Educational Opportunity Program (EOP)
  • First Gen Fellows for career guidance
  • Academic Centers
  • Berkeley Connect
  • Cal NERDS
  • Student Learning Center

Florida International University

University Park, FL


Tuition and Fees: $6,566 (in-state); $18,964 (out-of-state)

Average Financial Aid: $9,270

Percentage of Financial Aid Met: 42%

FIU’s Student Access and Success (SAS) programs increase access to college education. It also raises opportunities for academic success among first-gen students. 

Among the most notable SAS programs are:

  • FIU Golden Scholars Summer Bridge Program
  • McKnight Doctoral Fellowship Program

The First Generation Scholarship Program is the first of its kind in the Sunshine State. For every $1 donated to the program, Florida matches it with a $2 donation!

Key Tips for Admission Success for First-gen Students

Most first-gen students don’t have strong family support, academic background, and financial resources. As a result, they are less confident about their chances for college success. They also worry about college admission.

But it doesn’t have to be your story! Here are effective tips that will recommendation, will increase your admissions chances.

Take advantage of dedicated resources for first-gen students.

First-gen students contribute to higher education, society, and the economy in general. In turn, the public and private sectors offer these resources, information, and support:

  • Center for First Generation Student Success
  • First-gen nonprofits like First Generation Foundation and First Gen Support
  • Rise First
  • I’m First

Be familiar with the unspoken campus rules.

First-gen students may struggle with their academics, but unspoken campus rules can be as intimidating. They don’t have parents and other family members who went to college. Therefore, they do not have first-hand information about college life.

If you’re an incoming first-gen student, you can remedy the situation by taking introductory courses. You can also attend pre-boarding orientation on college resources, services and facilities.

You can also ask about the unspoken campus rules from current students and alumni, read online forums, and make campus visits. 

Take advantage of educational opportunity programs.

Education Opportunity Programs (EOP) bridge the financial gap for low-income and first-generation students. They feature academic boot camps that will prepare you for college courses. EOPs are useful even if you have excellent grades in high school and strong SAT/ACT scores.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the characteristics of first-generation students?

First-gen students are individuals whose parents or guardians didn’t complete their college education. While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all description, their most common characteristics include:

  • Limited academic background among family members
  • Limited access to college preparation resources
  • Difficulty in navigating the college admissions and financial aid processes
  • Challenges in adjusting to the college culture
  • Resilience and resourcefulness combined with a strong motivation to succeed
  • Come from diverse backgrounds
  • Feels the impostor syndrome or feels less confident

What types of college students are first-generation?

Again, there isn’t a stereotypical first-gen student because of their diverse backgrounds. Generally, most first-gen students are part of:

  • Ethnic and racial minorities
  • Low-income families
  • Societies or communities where a college education isn’t valued or isn’t the norm

First-gen students are often part-time enrollees and full-time employees. They are also often older than their classmates.

Are you a first-generation college student if one parent went to college outside the US?

Yes, but you must check with your college. The specific definition of a first-gen student varies based on your school’s criteria.

What are first-gen scholarships?

First-gen scholarships pay for tuition and fees, room and board, books, and supplies. Examples include the federal TRIO Programs and the GEAR UP scholarships.

Can I get a scholarship for being a first-generation student?

Yes, you can!