For anyone who decides to enroll in college, the sense of accomplishment is well-deserved. However, if your parent(s) didn’t go to college, then it’s likely you may face first-generation college student struggles. This is totally normal and understandable.
Let’s take a look at some of the feelings you may experience and challenges you’ll look to overcome. But don’t worry — there are resources to help you manage these hurdles and be successful along your academic journey. We’ll touch on those, too.
First-Generation College Student Challenges
A first-generation college student is any student whose parent(s) did not attend college, thus the term “first generation.”
Family roles and expectations may impact your college experience and surrounding emotions. It could cause you to have to form two different senses of self or identities — namely, one for your home environment (with family) and one when you are at college (with peers).
Here are some first-generation college student challenges:
Some first-generation college students may feel embarrassed to be on campus or surrounded by other students whose parents did attend college. This could lead to feeling like an imposter, making it harder to fit in with students around you who have family traditions of going to college.
For any person, attending college comes along with a lot of life transitions. You get to (mostly) choose your own schedule for the first time, especially if you attend an online institution.
The freedom of choice, ranging from work-study programs to internships to your class schedule, can quickly become overwhelming and lead to confusion. Your peers may be able to ask their siblings or parents about how to navigate these situations, while you may be left wondering who to turn to.
Most people will be sure to tell you that, “There’s no time in your life like when you’re in college.” The college experience can be life-changing, but it can also be anxiety-ridden. You’ll be balancing your time, social inclusion, academic achievement, financial situation, and more. Many changes occur in a short amount of time, but you’ll also be able to gain valuable skills by overcoming all of these milestones that lead you into adulthood.
It’s fairly common for first-generation college students to feel a sense of guilt. This may stem from the fact that they are leaving their families to pursue their education, or it could also be further heightened by financial responsibilities at home. Some first-generation college students also feel bad that they are taking part in an experience that their parent(s) may not have had the opportunity to experience.
The majority of first-generation college students are part of racial and ethnic minorities. As such, they may undergo more discrimination than their peers while attending college. These unwarranted and irrational attacks can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation, which can negatively impact mental health and academic outcomes.
It’s essential to keep in mind that every single person has the right to an education. Many academic institutions, such as the University of the People, are working to make this mission a reality by providing accessible, affordable, and online education for students globally.
First-generation college students may be ESL (English as a second language) learners. This language barrier can be the root of confusion or some extra hardship. Studying at an institution of higher education will surely improve your English-speaking skills, even if it takes a little extra time.
There is a correlation between first-generation college students, racial minorities, and lower socioeconomic status. Thus, first-generation students may have more financial hardship to face when compared to students who come from families who have attended college for generations.
Again, there are solutions! You can check out financial aid options in the form of scholarships, grants, and loans.
Advice for First-Generation College Students
The list above can be disheartening to read, especially if you are a first-generation college student. But, as we have referenced throughout this article, there are always solutions and assistance for students feeling these sentiments.
Here are some suggestions to aid in overcoming first-generation college student struggles.
Leverage Academic Advisers
Colleges generally have academic advisers whose role is to aid students in answering any questions they may have. They can be a valuable resource to answer your questions and help guide you through your academic experience.
Even if an academic adviser doesn’t have the answer to your specific question, they will know where to refer you to find the answer.
Utilize Office Hours
Professors tend to have office hours set where students can communicate directly with them to ask questions, talk about problems, or share concerns. Office hours are a great way to get to know your professor and allow your professor to get to know you. This is especially useful in large class sizes where there isn’t enough capacity for professors to get to know each student personally.
Professors also can become mentors and may be called upon to write letters of recommendation should you wish to continue your education with a graduate degree or enter the workforce with recommendations.
Join a Club or Team
To overcome feelings of alienation or isolation, consider joining a club or a team based on your interests. This is an excellent way to network, grow your circle, and make friends with peers from all different walks of life. Chances are, you’ll become friends with at least one other student whose parent(s) did go to college, so their advice can serve as the guidance you may have otherwise been lacking.
The Bottom Line
If you’re attending or thinking about attending college as a first generation college student, give yourself kudos because you deserve it! Although you may face some or many first-generation college student struggles, you will undoubtedly be able to overcome them with a strong sense of self, resilience, and reliance on the various valuable resources that you do have at your disposal.