Resources for First-Generation College Applicants
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Applying to college can be a complex and overwhelming endeavor. Students often feel like their entire high school career is being judged based on just a few pieces of paper. Even with the guidance of friends, family, and mentors, it can be intimidating to say the least.
For an aspiring first-generation college student, the process can be even more so. Without guidance or insight from a parent who has been in your shoes, it’s not easy to recognize the many resources that are available to you. Luckily, these resources are plentiful, and many are designed specifically with first-generation students like you in mind.
If you’re a first-generation college student who isn’t quite sure where to find the best advice, tools, and references around, this is the post for you. Here, we outline our favorite resources for helping first-generation students through the college admissions process.
Who is considered a first-generation college student?
There is no formally agreed-upon definition of a first-generation college student. Some universities reserve this title for anyone whose parents have not received any level of post-secondary education. More commonly, though, you are considered a first-generation college student if neither of your parents has received a four-year college degree. This means that most often, even if one or both of your parents attended college, you are still a first-generation student if neither graduated.
What makes the experience of first-generation college students unique?
Colleges aren’t required to report data specifically related to first-generation students, so it’s difficult to get an accurate depiction of the big picture. Schools that do keep track of this report that first-generation students are significantly more likely to struggle academically and less likely to graduate within six years.
While it’s hard to pinpoint the exact cause for this, many students point to broad social and cultural factors, like a feeling of guilt for having branched out beyond their family’s norms.
It’s important, though, to realize that success is possible, and that you are just as deserving of it as anyone else. One of the best recent success stories of a first-generation college student is Michelle Obama. She graduated cum laude from Princeton University and went on to earn a degree from Harvard Law.
When she looked back on her experience as a first-generation student, she reminisced, “I didn’t know how to choose my classes or find the right classrooms. I didn’t even know how to furnish my own dorm room. In fact, when I moved in, I realized that I hadn’t even packed the right size sheets for my bed.”
Michelle Obama’s recollection highlights the need for resources to serve the unique needs of first-generation college students.
Here are our favorites.
First-Generation Student Resources for the College Application Process
The web resource I’m First describes itself as an “online community celebrating first-generation college students and supporting those who will be.” It provides inspiring stories from other first-generation students, and allows you the opportunity to share your own. By signing up for a free account, you have access to the I’m First blog, which is written by current first-generation college students. You also gain access to a selection of answers to common questions about college from first-generation students.
In addition, the site includes information about specific colleges that place particular value on first-generation students and gives information about the resources available for first-generation students on various college campuses.
First Gen Fellows is primarily a ten-week summer program for first-generation college students who are passionate about pursuing careers in social justice, but the website also provides some valuable material for aspiring first-generation students.
Of particular importance is the lengthy list of nonprofits that support first-generation students, organized by state. These nonprofits range from mentoring programs to college application editing and advice services. Some even include academic tutoring. Check out the complete list to see what’s available in your state.
The Big Future is a resource provided by the College Board. It is not specifically designed for first-generation students but it provides many resources that are especially useful. There are pages devoted to building a support network, making a plan for college admissions, and finding resources for undocumented students.
You should also consider reaching out to specific colleges you’re interested in attending. You can send a quick email to an admissions officer or call the general admissions office to request information about the school’s resources for first-generation students. Many schools have programs in place to support and guide first-generation students through their college years. These organizations may also be able to help you as you apply.
Your Teachers or Guidance Counselor
Most students get fairly little face time with their guidance counselor and not much one-on-one time with their teachers either. This doesn’t have to be the case, though. You can always request a meeting with a mentor at school to discuss the college application process.
Many teachers or counselors may not know until you tell them that you are in the unique position of being a first-generation student. Asking for some additional guidance or advice is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign that you are maximizing your resources.
Set up a meeting with a trusted teacher or guidance counselor to learn more about college applications, standardized testing, and college life.
First-Generation Student Resources for Financial Aid and Scholarships
This website is another that is not designed specifically for first-generation students, but instead for anyone who is unfamiliar with the process of applying for financial aid. The website organizes and provides a list of events across the country that are dedicated to helping families fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
At these events, families fill out the form with the help of a volunteer who is familiar with the process. The website also provides general tools and tips for filling out the FAFSA.
This resource, sponsored by the Chronicle of Higher Education, is a valuable online tool to help students and their families estimate the net cost of college. It provides information about potential aid packages, along with earning potential, graduation rates, and debt repayment.
Fast Web is a searchable database of thousands of college scholarships. In addition to providing information about college scholarships and how to apply for them, it also provides a special overview for first-generation students and a list of scholarships specifically dedicated to first-generation students.
First-Generation Student Resources for Career Planning
Career One Stop is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor and provides resources related to careers, job training, and job searches. It provides a free interest and skills assessment to help pinpoint possible career paths, along with the earning potential of each. It also profiles careers in a series of videos to lend insight into professions you might not have known about.
If you’re a first-generation student currently applying for college, it might seem overwhelming to undertake such an important and involved process when no one else in your family has done the same. But just because your family has not been through the process before, it doesn’t mean that you are without experienced guidance. There are many resources available to help you as you set your sights on the future.
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To learn more about the first-generation student experience, check out these CollegeVine posts: