What Is A First Generation College Student? (2023)

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A first-generation college student is someone who is the first member of their immediate family to go to college. To put it another way, neither of your guardians has a college education.

Of course, being a first-generation college student raises a lot of questions. There is no one to mentor or advise them, unlike students whose parents have graduated from college. It’s difficult for first-generation college students.

 What resources are available to them for assistance with the college application process? Or what about the hundreds of other decisions that must be made? Do first-generation students have access to any unique resources?

Let’s examine these issues, including what a first-generation college student is, in more detail.

What It Means To Be A First-Generation College Student

The first-generation college student is the first in their family to attend college and pursue a degree.

First-generation college student means neither of the college student’s parents has attended college. 

According to the federal higher education act, a first-generation student is an individual whose parents did not complete a baccalaureate degree. Being a first-generation student describes progress for a family.

But first-generation students can be seen in a variety of family education situations. A parent who has enrolled in college but never graduated is a case describing first-generation students.

Even if one parent has graduated, the other never attended college can be considered a first-generation student.

There might be more than one individual in the family who is a first-generation college student. 

Even some universities consider if grandparents have graduated from college, but if your parents are not, then the student is also considered a first-generation student.

Benefits Of Being A First-Generation College Student

Despite all the challenges, there are several advantages to being a first-generation student. First-generation students have access to various resources at colleges and universities that value diversity. Several advantages include:

1. Financial Aid:

First-generation students are qualified for both needs as well as merit-based financial aid. Need-based aid, which may also include grant funding and college loans, takes financial eligibility into account.

It consists of subsidized student loans, work-study (a part-time campus job), and federal Pell Grants. Merit-based financial aid is based on academic achievement and musical, sporting, or artistic talent (grades, class rank).

What Is A First Generation College Student  - Financial Aid

Tuition discounts are one type of merit-based aid that can help make college more affordable.

2. Admissions:

First-generation college students frequently face obstacles, and a college admissions essay can be a powerful tool for sharing that experience.

Colleges might take that into account if students were required to work during high school rather than take part in extracurricular activities.

What Is A First Generation College Student  - Admission

In order to remove obstacles for underprivileged students, some colleges are also changing their admissions procedures to place less emphasis on standardized tests and grade point averages.

3. Scholarships:

In addition, first-generation students may apply for particular scholarships, just as there are scholarships available from a wide range of organizations and for several different degree courses.

Numerous scholarship programs are administered by the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) for Black students. There are additional scholarships available for Latino and Hispanic students. These  Scholarships do not need to be repaid, like student loans.

Challenges Faced By The First-Generation College Students

Many first-generation college students can feel it exciting to be first in the family but blazing a trail is a complex understanding.

A first-generation college student faces many issues and challenges. These may include a lack of financial support, less family support, and no guidance and personal counseling.

Let us have a look at some of the significant issues faced by first-generation college students.

1. Low Financial Support:

It is noted that many first-generation students come from very low-income families. Though they might get scholarships and financial aid, they still fail to cover the overall college educational expenses.

Due to this situation, students lack financial support and take out education loans to cover costs.

42% of first-generation students take out loans of more than $25.000 or more. This loan must be rapid even if students leave college in between without a degree.

2. Lack Of Parental Support:

Generally, parents of first-generation students are unaware of the college culture and college application process. 

Parents may be less likely to help their children in the admission process and to provide the necessary support.

While the shift to college life is something that all first-year students must go through, parents of first-generation students often find it difficult to assist their children in learning how to balance dorm life, classes, and money.

3. College Readiness:

Since many first-generation students come from low-income families, it’s possible that their high schools didn’t emphasize college readiness when they graduated.

Remedial courses are required of 36% of first-generation college students during their first or second year, according to PNPI. Due to this, they may be more likely to drop out before finishing their degrees.

4. Anxiety Or Difficulty In Adjusting To College Life:

According to first-generation college students, imposter syndrome, which is the sensation of not belonging and not being as bright as one’s peers, can be debilitating.

Many students experience feelings of loneliness and anxiety, especially if they attend a university with fewer diverse students. In particular, if they worked part-time jobs to support their families, they might feel bad about leaving home.

5. Less College Acknowledgement:

Lack of knowledge of campus resources is another problem that many first-generation college students experience.

Many first-generation students, according to experts, may not be aware that their colleges provide academic advising or campus health resources. Students may be impeding their success by failing to utilize campus resources.

Resources For First-Generation Students

Though many campus resources are available to the students, many other resources are available for first-generation students.

These resources help students at all stages of their academic journey, from application to graduation.

These include tutoring, mentoring, counseling, health services, financial aid, and social services.

Following are some of the resources that are dedicated to helping first-generation college students.

1. Center For First-Generation Student Success:

This project is a collaboration between the Sunder Foundation, a center that promotes first-generation students’ success in higher education, and the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA).

2.  I’m First:

College students who are first in their families can share their experiences in the I’m the first online community.

3. FirstGEN Fellowship:

For first-generation college students interested in a social justice career justice, there is a paid summer program called the first generation civil rights fellowship program.

4. First-Generation Foundation:

With a focus on promoting enrollment in prestigious institutions, the first-generation foundation provides information and resources to students and their families.

5. Rise First:

This group offers assistance to first-generation college students, professionals, and high school students who want to attend college.

6. America Needs You:

America needs you to offer students mentoring services, chances to partner up professionally, assistance with internship opportunities, and resources for career progression.

Statistical Facts Of First-Generation Students

Let’s have a look at some stats and facts on first-generation students.

  • First-generation college students are more likely to enroll in online classes.
  • First-generation college students include 30% of first-year college students.
  • 34% of first-generation college students are over the age of 30.
  • Nearly 20% of first-generation college students have a language other than English as their first language.
  • First-generation college students tend to attend part-time college more.
  • About 30% of first-year students in college are first-generation students.
  • Compared to their peers, they have a higher enrollment rate in two-year institutions (48% vs 32%).
  • In addition, they are more likely than their peers (8% vs 5%) to enroll in online programs and other distance learning opportunities.
  • First-generation students are less likely than their peers (50% vs 64%) to finish a college degree within six years.
  • In contrast to their peers, they (48% vs 38%) are more likely to attend college part-time than full-time.
  • Over 30% of first-generation students are enrolled.
  • First-generation students are a diverse group. According to Postsecondary National Policy Institute (PNPI) data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 35% of undergraduate students attended college for the first time in their family during the 2015–2016 academic year.
  • Furthermore, according to PNPI,  8% of Asian-American students, 19% of African-American students, 33% of Latino students, and 37% of white students were first-generation enrollees. These students also frequently have children and are older than their peers.
  • Additionally, first-generation students have other characteristics in common that influence how they experience college and life after graduation.

Related Read:

Bottom Line: What Is A First-Generation College Student (2023)

All in all, kudos if you are a first-generation college student! It is a significant accomplishment and something to be incredibly proud of.

While FGCSs may experience some difficulties in college, many resources are available, and you can relax knowing that the rest of the academic community supports you!

I hope this article has helped you to understand first-generation students. Share your experience of being a first-generation college student in the comment section below.

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