Part 1: Top tips for first-generation college students

Starting college can be an intimidating experience. If you are a first-generation college student – meaning your parents didn’t graduate from college, then you may be feeling overwhelmed as you explore your own college opportunities.

Here are four things to remember as you think about pursuing a college degree: 

You’re not alone

The average first-generation student may not have the same levels of financial or emotional support that students whose parents went to college receive. These statistics, however, don’t define your potential success! College, and the whole process to get there, is just new to both the student and the parent, and plenty of first-generation college students have gone on to achieve success.

Former President Bill Clinton, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, and Oprah Winfrey were all first-generation college students. So if you find yourself in this situation, don’t worry – you’re in good company!

You may not be the next famous first-generation college student, (or maybe you will be!) but either way, there are resources available to help you reach your goals. The path to achieving success has been set by past first-generation students, and there are plenty of people willing to help you find your way.


Apply for financial aid

First, apply for every scholarship you’re eligible for. Many scholarships are designed specifically to meet student’s circumstances – first-generation, minorities, involvement in certain clubs or organizations, or specific majors are just a few possible examples.

Each year you plan to attend college, be sure to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). There are many types of financial aid programs that do not require accepting a loan. Filling out a FAFSA is the best way to ensure every possible option of financial aid – grants, scholarships, work-study, etc. If you find yourself still having to borrow money to complete your degree, keep in mind that student loans offered through Federal Student Aid (by completing your FAFSA), often have low interest rates and give you more flexible payment options.


Consider your school’s summer bridge program

It’s never too early to start building up the support network you’ll need to succeed in college. During the summer time, between academic years, some schools host incoming freshman with a multi-day camp/orientation. If the school of your choice puts on a summer program like this, take advantage!

The counselors at these summer programs are often their schools’ most involved students. They know all the great professors, worthwhile clubs, quiet study spots, and ways to make the most of life on campus.


Utilize student services

Colleges have systems in place to ensure their students succeed. However, unlike high school, counselors and teachers most likely won’t be flagging you down in the hallways or calling you into their offices. You may have to seek out help to get it.

When you first arrive on campus, schedule a meeting with your academic advisor. Ask about specific services for first-generation college students. Ask about other support services like writing centers, and peer tutoring programs, mental health resources and food insecurity programs that students can access for free. Find these services at the start of your college career so you know where to turn if you need them.

Set up an appointment with the financial aid office. Ask if they are aware of any financial aid opportunities, including scholarships, grants, and work-study programs you could utilize. Most colleges also have career services, they can help you create a resume and find an on-campus job to fit your schedule. Learn more about these types of services on your school’s website and use them as often as you need. They are there to help you.      

Being the first in your family to attend college isn’t necessarily a disadvantage. As a first-generation student, you have a unique perspective. Understand that these few years, where you’ll have access to technology, professors, and other resources, is a great opportunity that won’t last forever. Attend class, ask questions, get involved, and make the most out of your time at school.

Part two of tips for first-generation college students will be posted next week. Come back for more!