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Resources for First Generation College Students

Recommended Reading:
Online Students’ Guide to Understanding Financial Aid

According to the First Generation Foundation, the Department of Education estimates that half of all undergraduate college students identify as first generation college students — meaning students whose parents never completed a bachelor’s degree. Because of increased college accessibility and affordability, these students are now fortunate to have more options available to them than their parents were given, at the same stage of life.

However, first generation college students and their families face many additional barriers and challenges, often because they simply don’t know what to ask or where to seek help.

Counselors play a large role in encouraging these students to apply to college, as well as helping both students and their parents feel confident they can afford it. This resource will help guide students, parents, and counselors through some common challenges. They are likely to find many more educational options available to them than previously realized.

Joyful Graduate in Commencement Robe

First Generation College Students FAQs

Questions about Fitting In

Q: I feel a bit out of place pursuing higher education, when compared to my family. Is it normal to feel guilty for attending college when my parents didn’t have the same opportunities?

A: It’s actually very common to feel guilty about being admitted into college — especially when you’re the first in your family to speak English fluently or be able to continue your education past middle school or high school. However, you should know that your family wants the best for you, your education is important to your future success, and you’re not alone in your experience.

Q: How will I find my social and academic niche, once I start attending college?

A: There are lots of classes to take and majors to consider in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree, but you’re not alone in being unsure of your career or major. Try taking classes that interest you and ones in which you have a natural aptitude for the subject matter. Online classes typically provide more flexibility to juggle work and life-related responsibilities with school work, as well.

Questions about Tuition Expenses and Affording College

Q: Coming from a low-income household, how will I be able to afford tuition and living costs?

A: Surprisingly, private colleges and universities can be even more affordable than public institutions or community colleges, due to the relative amount of financial aid that is needed to afford tuition. In addition, federal Pell grants and TRIO programs are examples of programs designed to help fund educational expenses for students.

Q: How do I start the financial aid process?

A: The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) provides a number of government-funded grant and loan options for applicants from all income levels, and there are also scholarships specifically designed for first generation college students like yourself. Maryville University also has an online students’ guide to understanding financial aid, for more information.

Parents of First Generation College Students FAQs

Questions about the Admissions Process & Educational Goals

Q: How can I educate myself about the admissions process and remain informed about my child’s options?

A: Your son or daughter has a number of educational and financial aid options available to them, should they decide to apply to any college or university. Most admissions pages link to information about financial aid, programs of study, academic calendars — as well as options for nontraditional students such as transfer, international, and military applicants.

Q: What are some long-term benefits I can expect to see as a result of my child graduating from college?

A: The National Center for Educational Statistics reports that 88 percent of college graduates were employed full-time in 2016, compared to only 69 percent of high school graduates. Furthermore, lifetime earning potential increases dramatically the further students go in school.

Questions about Financial Aid

Q: How can I assist with the financial aid process? I’d like to understand the process in order to provide my child with guidance and support.

A: Most colleges provide a comprehensive financial aid guide to help guide families through the process of applying for scholarships, grants, and loans. Federal Pell grants and TRIO programs, are designed to help fund educational expenses for the families of first generation college students.

Questions about College-Life Transition

Q: How can I help my child adjust to life away from home? And are there resources for parents struggling to adjust to their children being away at college?

A: There is a lot to take in during your child’s first year attending college either on-campus or online, and parents of first generation college students may feel especially confused about where to start. However, you’re not alone. Be sure to listen to your student, keep an open mind, and seek out as much information as you can.

Q: How can I find others like me to talk to, if I don’t know if I’m alone in my concerns?

A: Seek out community support from neighbors and friends who can relate to what you’re going through. Find peers at parent-teacher nights and via extended family members who may be experiencing the same thing. There is strength in numbers!

Counselors and Advisors to First Generation College Students FAQs

Getting Students Thinking about College

Q: Where can I find resources and information specifically for first generation college applicants?

A: When working with first generation college applicants, begin early — for example, during their first year of high school — in order to prepare them for any necessary prerequisites or advanced placement courses they may need to take for admission into their schools or programs of interest. Be sure to encourage them to apply, even if they seem uncertain — since uncertainty is normal among first generation college students.

Q: What are some academic guidance resources I can provide to my students in search of viable options for career paths?

A: The College Board has some excellent resources for deciding on a college major. Students can explore careers by answering a few questions and researching potential life paths, online. Students should realize there are a number of online learning opportunities available to them, as well.

Beginning the Admissions Process with First Generation Students

Q: How can I best guide high school students through the admissions process?

A: Many colleges and universities have extensive admissions pages providing resources and information about how students can begin to apply.

Q: How can I help prospective students with their college admission essays?

A: Encourage students to focus on a few key points, rather than trying to share everything about themselves at once. Try talking with them about possible essay ideas to help get them thinking about what they’d like to write about. Oftentimes, simply speaking out loud helps writers organize and focus their thoughts, before putting them in writing.

Q: How can I provide the best support to first generation college applicants who come to me for support?

A: Emphasize that they’re not alone, and that there are multiple academic options available to them, including bachelor’s degree programs, master’s degrees, and doctorate degrees. As first generation college students, they are very important to the future of diversity and inclusion in our country, and their futures hold a wide variety of paths to choose from. Now, it’s up to them to begin.