Table of Contents
- What Is a First-Generation College Student?
- What Challenges Do First-Generation Students Face?
- Tips for First-Generation College Students
Every year millions of students make the decision and set out to get a college degree. Among many, there is the category of first-time college students who have been receiving more and more recognition for “beating the odds.” But who exactly fits under this category, and what characterizes these students?
What Is a First-Generation College Student?
The term ‘first-generation college student’ or ‘FGCS’ often means different things to different people. The simplest definition is someone who is the first in their family to attend college, i.e. someone whose parents don’t have a college degree.
What Challenges Do First-Generation Students Face?
While the adjective ‘first’ is often linked to great accomplishments, people often forget about the endeavors to get there. And in the case of a first-generation college student, being the first is, unfortunately, not the end of their struggle. Deciding to pursue a college degree and applying can be overwhelming, especially if you are the first one in your family to do so.
Low graduation rates
Although the number of first-generation college students is steadily increasing, the graduation rates remain low. A few factors specific to first-generation college students contribute to the high number of college dropouts of this category.
Low family income
The FGCS category comprises predominantly low-income, minority families- meaning, more often than not, the first-gen student is the primary source of income for his/her family. Being a college student is quite demanding on its own without having to provide for someone.
If and when first-gen students consider pursuing a college degree, they are faced with a world full of unknown concepts that their families, unfortunately, can’t help them with. This lack of preparation is mainly displayed during the application process, but it also disadvantages them during their studies.
Adjustment to college life
Getting used to life as a college student proves to be a challenge for most people, and this is especially true for first-gen students. Because of their low-income background, first-gen students are more likely to live off-campus, i.e., be less involved in all college activities. This makes their adjustment to college life all the more difficult.
One thing that first-gen students are aware of is that their going to college is the result of their families’ sacrifices as much as their own efforts. Families of FGCS often, even unknowingly, put extra pressure on them to not only graduate college but also pass with flying colors and be the inspiration for future generations.
Higher student loan debt
Although the cost of pursuing a college degree differs worldwide, there are countries like the US, where going to college is next to impossible without loans. Massive student loans on top of providing for their families can put a severe strain on first-gen students.
Tips for First-Generation College Students
In the event that you are considering college as your next step in life, and you classify under the notion of a first-generation college student, there are a few things you can do to make the process of applying, attending, and graduating college a little easier.
Turn to school counselors for help
Part of what makes applying to college less overwhelming is knowing you have done your research and chosen what fits you best. Someone who can help you make this decision is your school counselor. Discuss with your counselor what your options are based on your grades, finances, and other important factors that apply to you as a student.
Take advantage of educational opportunity programs
Ever heard of the saying “Well begun is half done”? Well, to begin your college experience feeling self-assured, you have to be prepared for it. One way to do this is to get acquainted with the transition process through support programs. Look for extracurriculars like academic courses or summer programs focused on helping students make a smooth shift from high school to college.
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Learn the unspoken rules
There is more to being successful in college than just studying hard and getting good grades. Every university campus has its set of “unwritten rules,” which FGCS needs to learn to get the most out of college. Remember, you can’t make use of opportunities if you don’t know what they are!
Ask for help when needed
FGCS are at a disadvantage in more than one aspect compared to their peers whose parents have college degrees. Asking for help from your counselors, professors, or even just someone with a college degree is nothing to be ashamed of. We highly encourage it! It’s important to realize that we all need a helping hand every once in a while, and asking for it saves you time in the long run.
Apply for scholarships
While there are various types of scholarships, all based on different criteria, their primary purpose is to help students. Ask your guidance counselors, professors, and peers for information on scholarships you may be eligible for. In addition, many universities are now offering scholarships for first-generation college students specifically; so, make sure you use all the resources available to you.
As already mentioned, first-generation college students are a unique and diverse category of students that often face a lot of obstacles on their journey to a college degree. However, through raising awareness on the benefits of a college degree, academic and financial support, we can help first-gen students overcome these obstacles.