What You Should Know As A First-Generation College Student

You might be hearing the words “first generation college student” get thrown around a lot as you  apply for colleges. According to Brown University, a first generation college student is a student whose parent(s) haven’t earned a college degree. This includes those whose parents attended college outside of the United States. Being one of the first in your family to attend college is a huge accomplishment. Attending college as a first generation student means progress for the family and a future full of opportunities. According to Northeastern University, 57% of college graduates have more job opportunities. 

Being the first in your family to attend college, while exciting, can also be challenging. You are about to embark on a journey that no one in your family has been on and navigating it can be tricky.

Here are a few tips to help you adjust to your new and exciting life as a first generation college student!

01

Surround yourself with a support system

It can be isolating for a first generation college student to attend college. There are feelings of uncertainty and inadequacy. For this reason, it’s important for first generation college students to be aware of the support avenues that exist on their college campus.

Nearly every school has a campus organization designed specifically for first generation college students. These clubs typically put on events like potlucks, slam poetry nights, and more! It’s a great way for students with similar backgrounds to connect with each other. The University of Texas at Austin puts on events such as College Celebration Day for their first generation students to celebrate their successes.

Most first generation college students also come from international backgrounds. There are a plethora of clubs and organizations on campus for students of all backgrounds. Some examples are the Black Student Union and the Asian American Society. Wherever you are from there is likely a club for you. 

First generation college students can often feel lonely or unsure of their path. They sometimes might feel “imposter syndrome” and like they don’t belong. On-campus counseling is a great resource for someone who needs someone to talk to.

tips for first-generation parents
02

Take advantage of financial aid

Oftentimes first generation college students (and college students in general) are intimidated by the sticker price* of attending college. Getting a degree can be expensive but there are many financial opportunities available.

  • Scholarships

    There are a number of scholarships designed specifically for first generation college students. Websites like Unigo, CollegeScholarships, and Scholarships.com provide students with a number of scholarships that they can apply to. In addition, most schools provide some sort of university-based scholarship that is specifically for first generation students.

  • Work-Study

    Most college students have a part-time job during their four years. It’s a great way to pay for their tuition, books, housing, or have some extra pocket money. If you’re eligible for a work-study program through FAFSA, you can gain an on-campus job that will help you cover your educational expenses. To learn more about work-study, please visit the Federal Student Aid Website.

  • Loans

    The least desirable form of aid but the most common is student loans. Loans is money that is given to you either by the federal government, the school, or private lenders to help fund your education. This money has to be repaid. There are three types of loans that students might see on their FAFSA award letter that can help pay for their schooling. Make sure you are aware of the types of loans, their interest rates, and how they can be repaid.

03

Ask for help when you need it

College classes can be difficult. Between homework, essays, a job,  and trying to maintain a social life, college can be overwhelming. College campuses are overflowing with help centers for first generation college students. Asking for help is the first step.

  • Tutoring Centers

    Colleges want you to succeed! In order to do that, they make sure to provide students with ample academic support. For example, Harvard University has a peer tutoring center that students can utilize if they need help in a specific subject.

  • Writing Centers

    It isn’t enough to just write an essay and be done with it. Campus writing centers are a free resource for students to gain quality edits and revisions to their essays.

  • Career Centers

    The only thing scarier than attending college is applying for jobs after graduating. Because you’re a first generation college student, you don’t really know what the best practices are for applying to a job or how to source the right jobs for you. Mastering your résumé is one of the best ways to land a job after graduating. Campus career centers are designed specifically to help students build a résumé, prepare for interviews, and more! According to the National Career Development Association, first generation college students can find purpose and direction through the mentoring support they receive through career centers.

The biggest piece of advice that can be given to first generation college students is kind of cliche but important. Do your best. This is new territory for you and giving yourself room to grow and make mistakes is the best way to learn. There is no secret formula to success for college students. But if you use the resources available to you, prepare ahead for your classes, and have a strong support system around you, success is in your future. 

Be proud of yourself. You’re the first in your family to go to college. This comes with inevitable uncertainties but, should also be a time for self-exploration, fun, and excitement. 

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