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First Generation College Student: Important Things To Know

Updated: June 19, 2024 | Published: June 19, 2020

Updated: June 19, 2024

Published: June 19, 2020


Headed to school this fall as a first generation college student? Or maybe you are already in the full swing of things but are looking for extra resources. Whatever the case may be, we’ve got you covered. Find out here what it means to be a first generation college student, special challenges you may face, how you can succeed, how you can pay for college as a first generation college student, and more.

What Is A First Generation College Student?

A first generation college student means that neither of the college students’ parents attended college. It can also mean that no one else in your immediate family has a college degree.

University of the People grad holding diploma for photo
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Importance Of First Generation College Students

For both families and individuals, being a first generation college student is a major accomplishment. In many cases, parents did not attend college because they did not have the financial, physical, or other opportunities to do so. Therefore, for these parents’ children to attend college is seen as an advancement in the family overall.

Inspiring Future Generations

The young children in a family generally look up to the older children in the family. If you are a first generation college student with younger siblings or cousins, or even connections to other non-familial youth, you are an inspiration to them to continue their dreams of higher education. In addition, the children of college graduates are more likely to attend college themselves, so you are setting up your own current or future children up for success as well.

Inspiring Past Generations

As a first generation college student, you also inspire your parents’ and grandparents’ generations. First generation college students’ parents may also decide to attend college themselves after seeing their children succeed. First gen college students are an inspiration to their grandparents as well by showing them just what their lifelong efforts to provide for a family mean — and that those efforts can lead to big achievements.

How To Succeed As A First Generation College Student

There are several things that first generation college students can do to increase their chance of success.

First of all, make connections with school professionals, and find instructors who are helpful and supportive to mentor you through your time in college. You should also surround yourself with like-minded people, and positive and supportive friend groups. Finding these types of relationships in college are a great way to ensure your success.

There are a number of personal characteristics that seem to help first generation college students succeed as well. Successful first gen students are hard working, persistent, goal oriented, independent, and confident. So as you work through your schooling, work on those intrapersonal skills as well and you might find yourself having an easier time with school work.

Also, having a family that is supportive of your college endeavours can increase your success in school. So involve your family whenever you can — update them with what new classes you are taking, send them your final projects or essays, and try to be open and communicative about your experiences.

University of the People graduate in cap and gown outdoors with family
Photo by Vantha Thang from Pexels

Challenges Faced By First Generation College Students

First generation college students may experience some additional challenges than most first year university students. They may face a lack of resources including financial, academic, professional, and emotional resources.

At times they may be faced with the stigma of being a first generation college student. First gen college students may also come from different backgrounds (whether it’s socioeconomic or cultural) than their college peers, which may make it difficult to assimilate to college life.

The First Generation College Student’s Guide To Getting Ready for College

For first generation college students, getting ready for college may be a bit more daunting than for the typical first time college student.

  • To get ready for college, make sure you find schools that value and support first generation college students.
  • Seek help and study as much as you need to for standardized tests.
  • Find school counselors who may be able to guide you through the application process, and connect with teachers who can give you outstanding letters of recommendations.
  • Make sure you fill out your FAFSA, and review all financial aid options before committing to a school in the spring.
  • In the beginning of school, get to know your academic advisors and start reaching out to them early on for mentorship.
  • Check out the campus clubs and organizations and join the ones that speak to you — either an interest you have or a cause you support.
  • There may also be first generation college student clubs or groups at your school. If there is, go ahead and get involved.

Paying For College: Guide For First Generation College Students

All students worry about being able to afford the high cost of college, but for first gen college students, there may be additional concerns. Whether these students come from a low income background, or are simply unaware of how financial aid works, understanding if you can afford to go to college is one of the major setbacks for most would-be first generation college students.

There are so many scholarships available for first generation college students, and it is certainly worth your while to spend some time online looking for them.

Another option for first generation college students is to attend a tuition-free university, such as University of the People. US accredited and fully online, UoPeople is the perfect option for students looking for flexible and affordable options to get real university degrees.

First Generation College Student Stats

  • FGCS (first generation college students) are more likely to enroll in online classes
  • 30% of college freshmen are first generation college students
  • 34% of FGCS are over the age of 30
  • Nearly 20% of FGCS have a language other than English as their first language
  • FGCS are more likely to attend college part time
University of the People student holding study binder outdoors
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Resources For First Generation College Students

1. I’m First

I’m First is a community-based platform that offers mentoring and support, and inspiration exclusively for first generation college students.

2. First Gen Fellows

First Gen Fellows is a 10-week-long summer fellowship program for FGCS undergraduates who are about to enter their first year of college. They receive training, an internship, and a stipend.

3. University Programs

Check to see if your university has specific programs that are meant for first generation college students. They may be resource centers, lists of mentors, or clubs or organizations for bringing FGCSs together and providing support.

4. Career Center

The career center at your school may be able to provide you with additional resources, for both your current academic studies, and your job search. They can help you find work-study, internships, and help with interview prep and resume editing.

The Bottom Line

Overall, if you are a first generation college student, then congratulations! It is a major achievement, and something to be very proud of. While FGCSs may face certain challenges during college, there are plenty of resources available, and know that the rest of the academic community is rooting for you!

At UoPeople, our blog writers are thinkers, researchers, and experts dedicated to curating articles relevant to our mission: making higher education accessible to everyone.