Conquer College As A First-Generation College Student

first-generation college students walking across campus

The term “first-generation college student” refers to someone whose parents, or primary caregivers, did not complete a four-year college degree. The definition can change slightly but basically, it means neither of their parents has a college degree.

Hurdles First-Generation College Students Face

First-generation college students struggle as they explore unchartered territory within their families. They are faced with the unknown which is intimidating and challenging. If you are a first-generation college student, you should be proud as it often means defying the odds.

Three of the biggest hurdles that first-generation students face are a lack of parental guidance, a lack of understanding of how the college system works, and financial challenges. Fortunately, enrollment for first-generation college students has increased over the years. Unfortunately, the graduation rate remains very low.

With the right resources, education, and support, first-generation students can work to overcome challenges and succeed in college.

1. First-Generation College Students Lack Parental Guidance

According to recent studies, students with family support are more likely to succeed academically than those without. For many students, their parents are their biggest supporters while they are in college. Parents help with navigating through the application process, they may assist with filling out FASFA, they might guide you as you pick a major and choose classes, and they may offer financial support. In addition, parents are often a student’s first line of support through hard times and tough decisions.

For first-generation students, there is no one at home to guide or advise them. As the first in their families to attend college, first-generation students have to navigate the college world themselves. College is full of opportunity and excitement as well as uncertainty, stress, and challenge.

Anxiety and depression are the top reasons college students seek mental health counseling. Research shows that 1 in 5 college students are affected by anxiety or depression because they are not ready to handle all the pressure, decisions, and responsibilities that come with being a college student. Parents of first-generation college students may not understand all the ups and downs that college life can bring. Therefore, they may not be able to support their students.

2. First-Generation Students Don’t Understand How the College System Works

College can be overwhelming and intimidating. Navigating things like college admissions, orientation, financial aid, registering for classes, how to add and drop, coursework and the struggle of college life isn’t easy. As a first-generation college student, it’s important to find your support system on campus. Join organizations, clubs, programs, and support groups on campus that’ll get you around other college students, from all backgrounds, including those with similar interests or majors.

First-generation college students often attend community college—which I highly recommend, and live at home while attending college—which I also highly recommend. The Benefits Of Attending A Local Community College are huge. It is the best academic and financial decision you will make. It was how I received my AS Degree in Business Administration at 17, earned my BS in Business Entrepreneurship at 19, and then my MBA in Entrepreneurship and Global Business at 20. Living at home has so many perks, the greatest being it will save you a lot of money. Learn all the ways you can get ahead by living at home, The Perks Of Living At Home Durning College.

Here are two great resources for first-generation students.

The First Generation Foundation

The First Generation Foundation advocates for, and serves, first-generation college students, aspiring to attend and graduate from academically rigorous institutions of higher learning. They provide free digital resources and information to students and offer a range of higher education services for college and university campuses striving to better understand this unique first-generation student population.

Center for First-Generation Student Success

The Center for First-Generation Student Success emerges as a leader in scholarly discussion, information sharing, networking, and program development. Through the provision of services and guidance across institutional types, the Center aims to acknowledge the intersectional experiences of first-generation college students. The website serves as a home for Center updates and announcements, an outlet for sharing cutting-edge research and current media conversations, opportunities for engagement through conferences and events, and access to a bevy of programs and services intended to improve first-generation initiatives across higher education.

3. A First-Generation College Student Usually Has A Job

First-generation college students are typically from low-income families. They struggle with the cost of college. Additionally, many first-generation students must also financially support their parents, siblings, or their own children. Therefore, they may have to work while they go to school. Typically the job they are working is not related to what they are studying in college.

Working and going to college full-time is a challenge. However, with a little planning, you will be able to strike a good balance. These tips will help you balance being a full-time employee and a full-time student, How To Balance Work And Going To College Full-Time.

Financial Aid

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), approximately 65% of high school seniors complete a FAFSA each year. First-generation and low-income students are less likely to complete an application.

I want you to fill out FASFA. I will repeat that, fill out FASFA. When you are looking for ways to pay for college, Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) should be at the top of your list. FAFSA provides more than $120 billion in grants, loans, and work-study funds to over 13 million students each year. If you are looking for a step-by-step process, Understanding Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will walk you through what needs to be done.


Apply to every scholarship you can. Searching for scholarships was something I did constantly for years and so should you. You will get tired of it, trust me. You will write essay after essay trying to convince some mysterious panel of people that you are worthy of a scholarship. I probably applied to over 100 of them. Once you write a few good essays you can simply modify them slightly to fit the scholarship requirements.

How To Get Scholarships For College will break down the process of searching and applying for scholarships.

Campus Food Pantry

Many college campuses offer food pantries. They provide food, such as non-perishable, fresh fruit and vegetables, and basic toiletries for students with financial hardships at no cost. See if your college has a pantry as you can typically visit it one time a week and all you need is a valid student ID card.

A First-Gen College Student Must Utilize Their Campus Resources

Campus resources make it easier to get through college, especially for first-generation students or for those who don’t have a lot of support. Many of these resources are free. I want you to take advantage of everything available to you.


There will be classes that are more difficult than others throughout your academic career. Instead of struggling on your own, consider seeking the help of a tutor. Many campuses offer to tutor for free. Find out if your campus has tutoring for the subject you’re taking. Tutoring may be offered in a one-on-one or a group format. Don’t hire a tutor or pay for tutoring until you know what resources are available to you for free.

Career Services

The student career services offer an array of opportunities for students. Most campus career services include assistance in resume and cover letter writing, mock interviews and interviewing techniques, and connecting students with job opportunities that fit their skills and degree path. Career services constantly have a database of internship or job opportunities that are looking for undergraduate students. They might be able to help you find and apply for these opportunities before you graduate.

Financial Aid

If you aren’t certain what financial aid you’re eligible for, the financial aid department can help you. There are several types of financial aid such as grants, scholarships, and loans. Here at Your College Sensei, I want you to avoid student loans, regardless of whether they are federal or private student loans. I want you to graduate debt-free. Know that any loans offered by your college’s financial aid department can be turned down. Instead, I want you to go to the financial aid department to get assistance to apply for grants or scholarships.


College advisors are trained to help students choose which classes to take to graduate. A college advisor may be able to give you helpful information about what classes to take and can review your academic plan with you to ensure you’re on track to graduate.

Health Services

Most colleges offer free or discounted health services for students. Whether you’re experiencing a cold or other physical illness, most campuses have walk-in times for students to get access to affordable healthcare services. Additionally, most colleges offer counseling services and crisis centers or hotlines to help students who need extra support. Ensure you know what services are available to students at your college.

Recreational Services

Many campuses offer students free access to high-quality facilities, a student pays for access to these recreational services in their tuition costs. Your campus has a gym or training center that all students can use. Visit your campus gym to see what amenities are available and if there are any group classes you can participate in to stay active.

IT Department

Some colleges offer technical assistance. Students who have a device crash or stop working should reach out to their college’s IT department to see if they can help. Don’t hesitate to contact the IT department and ask what assistance they provide students.