First-Generation College Students

A first-generation college student is defined as a student whose parents or guardians have not attended any college. Being the first in your family to attend college is a proud accomplishment, but you also may be in need of some extra support through your transition from home to college.

Students whose parents have not attended college often face extra academic and financial challenges. Research [pdf] from the U. S. Department of Education found that more first-generation college students come from lower-earning households compared to continuing-generation students (or students who have at least one parent who went to college). The same report found that first-gen students were more likely to report that they dropped out of college because they couldn’t afford it. Other research shows that first-gen students are more likely to arrive to college under-prepared academically. There is some positive news: first-gen students are just as likely [pdf] to get a job after graduating compared to their peers. Regarding mental health, first gen students have higher rates of depression and anxiety, and are less likely to seek services to support their mental health.

If you’re a first generation college student, you are not alone, and schools want to help make your transition as smooth as possible.

  • Your institution may have an office specifically for first-generation college students. There may be scholarships, housing, and programs for first-gen students to help you succeed in college.
  • Look for workshops, seminars, clubs, and social media groups sponsored by your school’s diversity and inclusion office to connect with other first-gen students.
  • Staff and faculty who may also have been first-generation college students and are sensitive to these unique challenges and barriers may be available to help. Let your professors know if you’re a first-gen student; they may be able to connect you with resources or be available as a mentor.
  • Utilize your resources. Your college or university may have a health or counseling center that provides free or discounted services to students. If you don’t feel well or if you’re feeling stressed, make an appointment with a provider.