Helping First Generation College Students Succeed

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Helping First Generation College Students Succeed

A first-generation student is defined as an undergraduate student with no parents with a bachelor’s degree. Nearly one third of undergrads are first generation. While it is true that first generation students are just as intelligent and motivated as their peers, they also tend to lack resources and knowledge about college that other’s may have gotten from their parents. Many students without parents who are familiar with the college experience may have a difficult time knowing how to apply for colleges.

Nearly half of first generation students attend community college. They are also less likely to graduate on time. First generation students are twice as likely to leave college after three years compared to their peers whose parents have a bachelor’s degree. First generation students also receive an average starting salary that is 12% lower than their peers; and many of them never had mentors. First generation students value their communities. More than two thirds of first generation students say they want to give back to their communities after they graduate. With all these things considered, it’s apparent that first generation students need and deserve support. Here are a few ways that you can do just that.


Financial support is so important for these students as they often rely heavily on grants and loans. Many first gen students may even be caring for parents, children, or siblings. Providing information on basic health care resources would be a great start. There are also many online sites or shops that offer low cost, 2nd hand textbooks. Pointing students in the direction of those resources will save them a substantial amount of money. If a student doesn’t have the attire to dress to impress in a job interview let them know of any clothing banks that may be in their area.


Campus resources should always be a topic of conversation with students. Many students without college savvy parents won’t know about the available resources that most campuses have. Many colleges offer optional college orientation days before the school year starts. It’s a good time for students to ask questions about college life, academic resources, and social expectations. Some campus resources are academic. Some first generation students may need additional help with their writing or critical thinking skills. Most colleges offer writing or tutoring centers.


Teach study skills. Consider adding a study skills assignment in your classroom. Pay attention to any students who may not be prepared for college studying and direct them to additional learning resources.


Organize your students into groups. Consider implementing more group assignments into the classroom. Organizing students into groups where they may not be friends with everyone will teach them how to work in a group and create new friendships.


Engage with parents. Many first generation students may feel very disconnected from their families while they’re attending college. They may even feel shame, guilt, and anger toward family members. If appropriate, consider creating assignments that will draw them closer to their families.


Facilitate connections. Many first generation students may be shy and scared to step outside their comfort zone. Encouraging them to join clubs or groups in college will help them to create bonds with their classmates and will make transitioning into college life much easier.


First generation students have many strikes against them. However they are just as capable and talented as any other student. They have so much to offer society and their communities. It’s important that teachers strive to make sure these valuable students succeed when they go off to college.


Check out these courses that relate to this blog:

  1. Creating Compassionate Classrooms: Overcoming Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES)
  2. Strategies for Teaching English Language Learners
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