By Kayley Allen

Being a first-generation college student is a blessing and a curse. The feeling of being the first person in my family to go to college was, hands down, one of the best accomplishments of my life.

Nonetheless, with this feeling of excitement came a dark, looming cloud of uncertainty to what lies ahead. My parents are knowledgeable in many ways, but when it came to questions about college, especially questions about student loans and the FAFSA, they don’t have the answers.

For a first-generation college student, money is a major stressor, but there are many ways to find answers and tips on how to save effectively while in school. Here are few ways to become more knowledge about financial aid and for finding financial opportunities for college.

1. Scholarships. This is an obvious one but is extremely important. Because scholarships can be such a hassle to apply for, many students may overlook them; nonetheless, a few $1,000 scholarships here and there can truly add up. While there are many scholarships that offer need-based and academic scholarships, many people don’t know that there are also a number of scholarships that are offered specifically for first-generations students. These awards recognize and are aware of the hardships that may come with being a student from a family with no college graduates. Whether it be financial hardships or others, these awarders are continuously impressed with the work ethic they see from these students and use these scholarships as a way to encourage and aid first-generation students to attend college.

2. The TRiO Program. TRiO is a federal outreach and student services program “designed specifically to identify and provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds.” Across the U.S colleges have TRiO programs implemented and are working towards serving low-income individuals, first-generation college students, and individuals with disabilities. The program offers opportunities to students such as special academic advising, financial literacy programs, and scholarships. Become a part of the TRiO program can open so many doors full of opportunity. There’s a team of knowledgeable staff members waiting to advise and assist you in ways that your family might not be able to, and that’s okay! You’ll also meet other first-generation students, which can help the campus feel smaller and to make you feel not alone with whatever financial hardships you may encounter. More information on the TRIO Programs can be found here:

3. Ask for help. Whether you’re in high school or already in college, you’re surrounded by professionals that are there to help you. Many high schools assign their juniors and seniors to a college counselor who can guide you in not only deciding what school to attend, but also financial aid and scholarship opportunities as well. Most likely, they went to school and got their degree, and want to see you do the same. If you’re already in college, there’s a good chance you were assigned to a financial aid advisor upon enrollment. They are there specifically to help you with whatever financial questions you may have! Whether it be help with the FAFSA, student loans or scholarships, or even a breakdown of tuition, they can tell you everything you need to know about how financial aid works at your school. Having a conversation with my financial aid advisor taught me a lot of simple things such as financing, but also about my student loans and how to apply for them.

Being the first in my family to go to college was scary. I was constantly comparing to myself to others and felt alone when my parents didn’t know the answers to some of my questions. Being a first-generation student doesn’t have to feel like this! Each and every college and university strive to make sure every student feels welcome. Knowing where to look for information about financial aid and scholarship opportunities can make the start of your college career a stress-free one.

Kayley Allen is a freshman from St. Louis at the University of Missouri.