First-Generation College Students

Are you going to be the first person in your family to attend college? Check out these tips for first-generation college students.

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Some students are born to parents with MBAs and PhDs, while others strive to be the first in their family to earn a bachelor’s degree.

If you’re a first-generation college student, read below for some tips on what to expect when applying to college and how you can prepare for this new and exciting challenge.

It’s never too early to plan for college, so take advantage of the system.

Common Challenges for First-Generation Students

The National Center for Education Statistics suggests that first-generation students are at a disadvantage. Unlike students whose families have a history or attending and planning for college, many first-generation students enter high school with little family or financial support. They are more likely to come from low-income families without a strong relationship to education. This can often lead to lower grades and sometimes even leads to dropping out of college.

The good news is that you have the power to overcome these odds. If you feel that you lack family support, don’t hesitate to seek outside support. Every student is entitled to a college education and no financial situation is unfeasible. Just remember that it’s your job to ask for help.

Financial Aid

Because your family may lack the experience needed to assist you in your college planning process, get to know your college counselor…but keep your family informed! Oftentimes, your financial situation can be the factor that will deter you from even considering college, so it’s important to speak with your counselor about financial aid programs and scholarships you may be eligible for.

It’s important to remind your family that paying for a college education will be one of the best investments you will ever make. Get your parents to attend financial aid workshops with you, become familiar with your payment options, and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) on time. Learn more about FAFSA here: Completing the FAFSA.

Start Planning Early

It’s never too early to plan for college, so take advantage of the system. Start doing your research freshman year; write up a list of colleges that suit you and outline a plan that will ensure you meet each institution’s terms of acceptance. Also, make a list of important dates and deadlines so that you know when applications are due, financial aid forms need to be submitted, and when decisions are sent out.

College Programs for First-Generation Students

Don’t forget to research colleges that cater to first-generation college students. For example, the University of Cincinnati, Main Campus and California State University, Fresno are both nationally renowned for their “first-gen” programs. A structured and supportive environment can help keep you focused and invested in college.

Action Plan

Create an action plan to prepare for college in high school:

  • Take the required courses and challenge yourself with honors or AP classes
  • Maintain a good GPA
  • Take the PSAT
  • Participate in athletics and get involved with your community

Extracurricular activities go a long way in your college application review. Application review panels are very impressed by first-generation students who have maintained a well-rounded and active high school career.

The Importance of Emotional Support

Remember that you may need more help than just filling out applications and signing up for the SATs. Seek out a mentor or guidance counselor to help you through this process. Don’t forget that your motivation plays a key role in overcoming the obstacles first generation college students encounter, but having a mentor by your side will help you maintain focus.

Most importantly, ask your family for emotional support – they may not realize the pressure you feel as a college applicant. There are very few guarantees in the competitive world of college acceptance, but you can always count on the fact that students with a relentless drive to succeed are more likely to do well in higher education and beyond.

First-Generation College Students: Tips and Tactics

  • Be flexible. It's going to be tough to know exactly what to expect so it's best to be able to roll with the punches.
  • Stay organized. Just like you had an action plan in high school, so will you need a plan in college. This plan should incorporate your goals and what you want to accomplish, as well as the materials you'll need to accomplish them.
  • Don't hesitate to ask for help. Counselors, teachers, friends, family members, community leaders are all good places to start when you need a little assistance.


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