Today: Feb 21 , 2019

Scholarship Toolkit: If Your Parents Didn't Go to College

09 October 2007  
There are several scholarships out there which are specifically created for students whose parents are not college graduates. Known as “First Generation College Students”, these students have the opportunity to take advantage of an “edge” over students whose parents did graduate from college.


There are several scholarships out there which are specifically created for students whose parents are not college graduates. Known as “First Generation College Students”, these students have the opportunity to take advantage of an “edge” over students whose parents did graduate from college.

The Dorrance Scholarship Program

In Arizona, the Dorrance Scholarship Program is just one of these opportunities. The Dorrance family funds the scholarship through the Arizona Community Foundation. This scholarship seems to prepare the students beyond college, and set them up for successful careers with a very comprehensive, creative, far reaching and quite generous program. The scholarship is aimed at first generation college students, which are students whose parents never received a bachelor’s degree. This scholarship asks for students with several other specific qualifications. The student must currently be a senior in high school, and meet all the following criteria to be considered for the scholarship:

  • graduate from an accredited Arizona high school
  • be the first generation to attend college
  • have a minimum cumulative 3.0 GPA (weighted or unweighted)
  • have a minimum combined SAT score of 1040 or composite ACT score of 22 (excluding writing score)
  • show financial need per the Free Application for Student Aid Federal (
  • apply for and be accepted by one of Arizona’s three state universities
  • show leadership and community service
  • agree to participate in all aspects of the scholarship program

This scholarship is for 4 years of college, which costs an average of $9,000 per year. The Dorrance also brings the students a large variety of other perks. The total value of the scholarship is estimated to be $45,000.

Once a student becomes a Dorrance scholar, they are enveloped in an exciting and comprehensive program. One of the biggest benefits of earning a spot in a program like this is the tutoring, mentoring and access to advisors they offer. So many times students feel overwhelmed in the transition from high school to university life. I believe this is one reason that students sometimes opt for going to a community college instead of straight into a university. And, while that’s fine and appropriate for many students, sometimes that simple fear stops some students from looking at a program like the Dorrance. I think they might miss an opportunity; perhaps a huge life-changing opportunity, if they let those fears stand in their way. The Dorrance Scholars program works to ease students into the university life by participating in each university’s transition programs. Northern Arizona University offers the STAR program, Arizona State University has the Summer Bridge program, and University of Arizona offers the New Start program.

Once students complete their sophomore year at their chosen university, the Dorrance Family Foundation and the Arizona Community Foundation will take the Dorrance Scholars from all three Arizona Universities abroad. This trip is a study in culture, history art, music, politics and architecture. In addition to this trip, scholars are offered $4,000 if they would like to study abroad for a semester during their junior or senior years.

After completing their junior year, the students will have an “Entrepreneurship Experience”. The scholarship program teams with the University of Arizona McGuire Center of Entrepreneurship to help students develop their ideas and turn them into reality. The scholars go to lectures, visit various sites, and get mentoring towards their goals. Not only is the tuition paid, but the students receive a stipend.

Each semester the program sponsors a chance for students to learn about different cultural experiences. Events include interviews, social events, business dinners, film festivals, museum visits, and covers basic rules of etiquette. Exposure to different events is something that could be extremely beneficial to students for a variety of reason, not the least of which is being prepared for the “real world”.

While attending their university the student will be assigned a “designated representative” and a graduate assistant. These people will work with each student on an individual basis to help develop their goals, and help them work toward the goals of the Dorrance program. These people serve as their “connection” to different resources on campus, such as career services, mentoring and tutoring.

The deadline to submit your application for the Dorrance Scholarship is March 1, 2008. If you would like a preview of the application, it is posted on the website.

Other scholarships for first generation college students include:

Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation

Drive Your Future Scholarship from Mercedes Benz (This year’s deadline has passed, but the link can be kept for future reference.)

Questbridge Scholarship for summer college experiences at Harvard, Stanford, Yale or Notre Dame

Next Student College List of First Generation Scholarships

I believe students should start their scholarship searches early. Even if they aren’t sure what career path they want to take, getting through college without taking on a lot of debt is a part time job in itself, for both student and parents. Signing up for free on-line scholarship search programs is also a good idea. I’ve used FastWeb, and find it simple to use and like the way the scholarships it presents are appropriate for the individual student. Even if the student is not yet qualified to apply for the scholarships, exposure to the different opportunities gives them an idea of what’s out there, and what they need to do to qualify for the money in the years ahead.