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. Unlike students whose parents have attended college, there’s no one to guide or advise them. First-generation college student struggles are unique. After all, they are exploring uncharted territory within their family. So, who can they go to for help with the college application process? Or with the hundreds of other decisions involved? Are there are any special resources for first-gen students?

Let’s answer those questions on what is a first-generation college student 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. Tuition, food, living expenses, and textbooks all add up to a lot of money. It’s completely understandable that some families would be intimidated by the price tag.

Before diving into what it means to be a first generation college student, it’s important to address the issue of college costs. You should know that the “sticker price” is not necessarily what students will actually have to pay. Sticker price is the price of tuition that’s published on a school’s website. What students and families will actually pay is the net price. This is the cost of attendance after scholarships and financial aid are taken into consideration.

The net price is much lower than the sticker price. The federal government offers various forms of financial aid for college students. Some forms such as grants and scholarships are free of cost. Other forms such as federal student loans must be paid back with interest. You must file the FAFSA to avail of any type of federal government financial aid.

Inspiring Future Generations As a First Generation Student

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 demonstrates that going to college is a smart decision.

Younger siblings and cousins will want to follow the same path and will fight harder to get there. Besides, they’ll have someone to go to for advice. They’ll 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.

First-Generation College Student Scholarships

There are several first generation college student scholarships that are established especially for this particular demographic. We’ve put together a few to help you get started:

Choose Your Future Scholarship Fund

Students graduating high school in Chicago can apply to the Choose Your Future Scholarship Fund. Preference is given to first-generation students, although it is open to all students.

The Cynthia E. Morgan Memorial Scholarship Fund

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

It’s worth taking the time to explore more first generation college student scholarships online. There’s no limit to the number of scholarships you can apply to and no limit to the amount of money you can win. And the best part – this is free money that you don’t need to pay back. All it takes to avail of first general college student scholarships is spending time to look for opportunities and to put together compelling scholarship applications.

First-Generation Student Struggles

Being a first generation student comes with its own unique challenges. Some of the more common first generation student struggles include:

  • Lack of preparedness
  • No one to turn to for advice or guidance
  • Financial issues and challenges
  • Difficulty adjusting to college life
  • Higher student loan debt
  • Lack of family support

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

One great place to find inspiration and tips is the YouTube channel “I’m First”. This channel was created with the goal of inspiring first generation students to keep going and attend college. Very often, first-generation students quit before completing their degree. Usually, it’s because they don’t have an example to show them how to deal with stress or expectations. If you find yourself in this situation, check out the YouTube channel above. 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.

More Resources for First-Generation College Students

If you need help, you’ll find these first generation college student resources very helpful.

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.

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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