Essential Advice for First Generation College Students

Being the first person in a family to attend college can require taking on some unique challenges. These difficulties may make it hard for first-generation students to stay on track academically. As a result, they are affected by a higher than average dropout rate. Learn tips 'first-in-the-family' college students can use to improve their chances of postsecondary success.

By Douglas Fehlen

tips for first-generation college students

1. Plan, plan, plan.

As a first-generation college student, you may not have much background on college preparation. A good antidote to inexperience is advance planning. Try to script every aspect of the transition to college, from when you'll turn in college applications to where you'll live when you start at a school. Need help? See #2.

2. Connect with a counselor.

If you're not aware of the steps that are important for transitioning to college, you aren't alone. All students can benefit from the help of a savvy school counselor. Counselors can familiarize you with all aspects of admissions, financial aid and other processes you must understand to go to college.

3. Apply for first-generation scholarships.

You'll likely be eligible for college money after filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), but you should also research scholarships for first-generation students. Many opportunities are available from community organizations and national groups dedicated to increasing college accessibility.

4. Attend orientation activities.

If you enroll in a campus-based program, attend student orientation events. One reason many people leave school is they never feel comfortable there. Orientation activities can help ease discomfort you might have. You'll learn where things are, meet new people and get a jump on making campus feel like home.

5. Get involved at school.

Whether you live at home (as many first-generation students do) or on campus, you'll have the chance to join student clubs, athletic leagues and other extracurricular activities. These are great opportunities to immerse yourself in student culture and feel like you belong on campus. Don't be bashful - get active.

6. Find mentors who understand.

First-generation students often say that family members don't understand why getting a degree is important. Some family may even openly oppose going to college. Find people - maybe family friends or professors - who appreciate the benefits of college and want to help you make the most of your experience.

7. Find first-generation peers.

It can feel pretty lonely being a first-generation student. Old friends may be taking a path different from your own. Finding new friends on campus who are in a similar position can help you feel less isolated. Check for student groups that celebrate your heritage. Some schools even have programs designed to bring first-generation students together.

8. Limit hours spent at work.

It's common for first-generation students to work while attending college. Family obligations or financial circumstances often make it necessary. But doing well in school can be hard if a job takes up a lot of your time. Try to secure adequate financial aid so that you don't have to work so much that it affects your studies.

9. Know where to get help on campus.

For a variety of reasons (family responsibilities, work obligations, language barriers, etc.) first-generation students often struggle with coursework. Be proactive in meeting challenges. Talk with an adviser to ensure you're taking appropriate classes. Visit professors for help during office hours. Go to campus tutoring services. You can meet any challenge that presents itself.

10. Expect hurdles at home.

Many first-generation students talk about feeling alienated from the world they came from after going to college. It's important not to leave that world behind, but don't let it prevent you from achieving all that you want to. Find ways to connect with people close to you, and help them to see why college is important to you.

Learn about the importance of need-blind admissions policies, which benefit many first-generation students.

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