Student Life

A Field Guide for First-Generation College Students

Elizabeth Hoyt

May 25, 2017

A Field Guide for First-Generation College Students
You're the first and you should be proud! The truth is that students should embrace their first-generation status, as it may actually give them an edge in the college admissions process.
Although more than thirty percent of freshmen entering college in the United States are first-generation college students, many are reluctant to identify themselves as such. But, why? It may be out of embarrassment or, perhaps, a belief that the situation is unrelated to their college attendance. Don't be embarrassed – be proud of your heritage, whatever it may be! As for the thought that generational status is unrelated? The truth is that students should embrace their first-generation status, as it may actually give them an edge in the college admissions process.
Many colleges even actively recruit first-generation college students, so identifying as a first-generation could absolutely be in your favor. Here are some tips that may help first-generation students utilize the first-generation status to its full advantage when applying for college:

Determine if You’re Considered First-Generation

Do this by having a clear definition of a first-generation college student, keeping in mind that what the school you’re applying to considers a first generation college student to be may not be the same definition as yours. For example, some schools define a first-generation college student as any student whose parents have never enrolled in post-secondary education, while others may consider a first-generation student as one whose parents have never attended a four-year university. That means some schools might still consider you a first-generation college student even if your parents graduated from a two-year university. Additionally, colleges will often still consider students first-generation even though siblings have attended college before them.

Share Your Experiences

Do this anywhere and everywhere you can! What we mean is fill out any optional questions looking for additional information in addition to any mandatory essays. There, you can give details about your family and life experiences and take the opportunity to share how much attending their college would mean, given that you are a first-generation college student. Keep in mind that if you decide to ignore or opt out of this section, you’re losing a vital chance to stand out amongst that giant pile of applications.

Identify Yourself

When college representatives are visiting at your high school, make sure to identify yourself as a first-generation college student and inquire about the type of programs and support their school has for first-generation students. It’s always good to find out a school’s offered resources as early as possible in the admissions process, as it may impact your college choice.

Seek Resources

Statistically, first-generation college students need more support since more than twenty-five percent leave after their first year. That’s four times the average dropout rate of second generation students! As a result, many schools have programs specifically designed to help first-generation students get any resources or support they may need. Some schools even offer support and guidance throughout the entire admissions process since first-generation college applicant often don’t have as much parental support during the application process as they might want or need. There are also many online resources readily available with information that will likely be helpful while going through different experiences as a first-generation college student. Sites like First Generation Student and Center for Student Opportunity are great resources to connect you with any information you may need regarding your college experience from getting financial aid and filling out FAFSA forms, to colleges that have offices specific to first-generation students and even help with applying for internships. Student blogs are another way to learn firsthand about the ups and downs other first-generation college students have gone through and how you can learn from them. Many schools and organizations, in addition to the government, offer financial aid and scholarships specific to first-generation college students. Take advantage of these opportunities to help pay for school – they are there for that reason.

Do you have any other advice for first-generation college students?

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