What it Means to be a First-Gen College Student

First college graduate

The world is a very different place today than it used to be thanks to technological advancements. Many jobs in the workforce require skills that can only be acquired in higher education more than in the past. Because of this, the student population is more diverse than ever before, comprised of working-class families made up of various cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

37.5% of the U.S. population aged 25 and older had a college-level education in 2020, a significant increase from only 7.7% of Americans who had graduated from college in 1960.

What is a First-Generation College Student?

The vocabulary in higher education often feels overwhelming, especially if that world is not only new to you but also to your family. There are terms and nicknames for just about anything, like many things in life.

A first-generation college student, or a first-gen, is someone whose parents didn’t attend a four-year university or attempted some college but didn’t complete their degree.

According to research, those whose parents graduated from college are much more likely than others to graduate themselves. Graduating from college is a fantastic accomplishment in itself. It’s quite significant if you are the first person in your family to receive a degree.

 “Adults who have attained at least a bachelor’s degree have better economic outcomes, on average than adults who have not completed college. They tend to earn more and accumulate more wealth. “

Pew Research Center

Students with little or no family collegiate history might head to college with limited knowledge of the terminology, traditions, and expected behavior. It often prevents first-generation students from fully immersing themselves in their college experience and can contribute to them leaving school before finishing their degree. No matter how competent and qualified, first-generation students may need more support to adapt to this new life phase.

Advice for First-Generation College Students

Most students who have doubts about college are likely to leave within the first two years, and the rates among first-gen students are even higher. Here are a few things you can do to finish your degree and have a positive college experience.

Have a Support System 

First-generation students are more likely to live off-campus, take classes while working, and be enrolled part-time than their non-first-generation counterparts. 

By becoming involved on campus, you can receive the support you need and begin to feel more integrated with your peers. Joining clubs, organizations, or support groups that you find interesting will help you feel more interconnected to campus as well.

Share Your Experiences

 In times of transition, talking about what you’re experiencing can help you process all the change. Confide in people you trust about any hardships you have while adjusting to college and a new environment. 

Your family will most likely not understand the hardships and pressure of college. Talking to them about what you are going through will allow them to better support you since there are no shared experiences they can relate to.

Take Advantage of Resources 

Most universities offer mentoring programs and programs to aid your college journey. Many also have offices for ethnic minority students, counseling centers, tutoring services, and financial aid programs. They can help you navigate the college landscape where you or your family may not have any previous knowledge. 

You can also benefit from talking to your peers. Finding a first-generation college student who is in their sophomore, junior, or senior year can be valuable. They can offer insight and share tips because they’ve already gone through it.

Find a Balance 

With school, work, family, and a social life, you have a lot on your plate! It would be best to find a way to balance all these different areas of your life. Time management is critical, and creating a schedule will help you balance your school work and responsibilities at home so you don’t become overwhelmed.

Being a first-generation college student is something that you should celebrate, even if it comes with its own challenges. You may not be able to lean on your family to guide you through this phase of life, but they will be able to support you even when they don’t understand what you’re going through.