What is a First Generation College Student?

Being a first-generation college student means that you are the first person in your immediate family to attend college. In other words, neither of your parents has a college degree.

Of course, a lot of questions come with being a first-generation college student. They’re exploring uncharted territory after all. Who can help them with the college process? Are there are any special resources for first-gen students? Let’s answer those questions, and more!

A first generation student sitting at a desk using a tablet.

What It Means to Be a First-Generation College Student

Being a first-generation college student represents progress for a family. Most people who decide not to go to college do so because they don’t think they can afford it. Food, living expenses, textbooks, and also tuition all represent a big amount of money. And this is completely understandable that some families would be intimidated by the price tag. (Although it’s important to remember that the “sticker price”—aka the published price of tuition—is not necessarily what students will actually have to pay. The “net price” is what students and families will actually pay, after scholarships and financial aid are taken into consideration. Don’t forget to file the FAFSA and apply for scholarships!).

Inspiring Later Generations

Being able to send a child to college represents hope for the family. It also serves as a guide for family members in younger generations. The younger ones will look up to that family member who did go to college. They will also want to follow their steps. It is a non-stop chain that sets a standard, one that shows going to college is a very good decision. Young siblings or cousins will want to do it too and will fight harder to get there. They will be able to find alternatives to get to pay for it, such as start working a little earlier or getting good grades in school to be able to apply for scholarships later on.

Inspiring the First Generation

The Youtube channel “I’m First”  was created with the goal of inspiring those students who are first-generation to keep going and attend college. Sometimes first-generation students quit before completing their degree. Partially because they don’t have an example to show them how to deal with stress or expectations. Students from all over the world send videos to this channel explaining what they went through and give tips to first-generation students who are in a similar position. Even Michelle Obama posted one!

Resources for First-Generation College Students

There are several resources for first-generation college students in addition to I’m First! including

Your School

Your college as well as your high school if you haven’t graduated yet have several resources available to first-generation college students. Check-in with your guidance counselor or the school’s financial aid department, advisers, or support programs to see what is available to you.

American Needs Yourself

ANY is available in four states: New York, New Jersey, California, and Illinois. It’s dedicated to helping first-generation students who are both low-income and also high achieving. Students who apply and are accepted can receive grants, career development, mentoring, networking, and other support. You can learn more about ANY here.

Re-Imagining The First Year

RFY from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities began in 2016 and offers several programs and resources to first-generation students, as well as students of color or low-income households. They work to improve college retention rates, student success, and student experience. Currently, 44 institutions participate including Cleveland State University, Cal Poly State University, Salisbury University, and the University of Central Florida. Check out RFY here.

Scholarships for First-Generation College Students

First-generation college students have quite a few scholarships tailored to them. Here are just a few examples:

Choose Your Future Scholarship Fund

For students graduating high school in Chicago, students can apply to the Choose Your Future Scholarship Fund. Preference is given to first-generation students, but it is not restricted to only them.

The Cynthia E. Morgan Memorial Scholarship Fund

This scholarship is for first-generation students in Maryland who are juniors or seniors in high school or are attending college, a trade school, or similar. The applicant must also be pursuing something in the medical field and be planning to continue their education within the state. Winners are granted $1,000.

IFSA Diversity Scholarship

The IFSA Diversity Scholarship is for first-generation students as well as those who are from underrepresented groups. Winners can be granted up to $10,000 for a year.

Difficulties for First-Generation Students

First-generation students face a number of difficulties including

  • Lack of preparedness
  • Financial issues and challenges
  • Adjustment to college life
  • Higher student loan debt
  • Family support

However, with the right resources, education, and support, first-generation students can work to overcome these challenges and succeed at college life.

Stats for First-Generation College Students

Did you know that…

  • First-generation students make up about 30% of college freshmen.
  • They are more likely to enroll in two-year schools when compared to their peers (48% vs 32%).
  • They are also more likely to enroll in online courses and distance learning options when compared to their peers (8% vs 5%).
  • First-generation students are less likely to complete a college degree in a six-year time frame compared to peers (50% vs 64%).
  • They are more likely to go to college part-time rather than full-time when compared to their peers (48% vs 38%).
  • 1/3 of first-generation students are 30 years of age or older

Are you a first-generation college student? If so, use our college match tool to find the best colleges for you, and see what kind of financial aid they might offer!

One thought on “What is a First Generation College Student?”

  1. Reyna says:

    Anyone that graduated from college first with their family was considered “First Generation” was my understanding. Well, that was way before that the term became so popular with the young crowd.

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