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Guide to Succeeding in College as First-Generation Student


A new school year is fast approaching and next summer, there will be many recent high-school graduates excited to start college. Of those 7.3 million students starting to pursue their undergraduate studies, about 20 percent will be first-generation, according to

First-gen students encounter a few more obstacles than the typical new college student because they are the first person in their family to go to college. Without the proper resources and help, some students may decide to leave school because they don’t know how to navigate this new environment. 

According to a 2017 study conducted by Linda Banks-Santilli, in four-year American institutions, one in six new students are first-generation. More than 25 percent of first gen-students don’t finish their first year in college and 90 percent do not graduate within six years.

First-gen students experience difficulty with four categories: professional, financial, psychological and academic, according to

From personal experience as a first-gen college student who is reaching the end of my undergraduate journey, I struggled with all four aspects. But there are resources on campus that are dedicated to help you.

Here are a few things I wish I knew before college that will help first-gen students succeed in college:

Find programs that benefit you as a first-gen student

There are certain programs that are specifically for first-gen students or if you come from a low-income and disadvantaged household. The main one to look out for is the McNair Scholars program. The McNair Scholars program provides grants to help you get to graduate school. Some perks are: graduate school application fees are waived, one-on-one mentorship, networking, and a summer research stipend.

Join the club in your major

Whether you are a theater major or a communications major, there is a club in college out there for you. A club provides good opportunities like tours to potential work companies, guest speakers, and it is a great way to meet people with the same major as you. Even if you are undeclared, joining the club of a major you may be interested in could help you make your decision.

Visit your health center

Along with your tuition dues, there is a fee you pay for your healthcare, physical and mental, in college. You get access to a variety of services from free flu shots and free therapy sessions.

Get a study buddy for each class

Always make sure you make one friend for each class or subject. This will be your go-to person to ask for help for assignments and lend you their notes if you miss class.

Get to know your professors

Don’t be afraid to ask for help! That’s what professors are there for. First-gen students can be a little intimated to visit their professors during office hours but they’re mostly sitting alone in their office waiting to see if someone stops by. Talk to them, get to know them, and ask any questions. A relationship with a professor can help you learn about more opportunities on campus and provide you with a letter of recommendation for a job or internship.

Take classes in-person, not online

Get the college experience! Hearing a lecture, actually seeing your professor and interacting with your peers is much better than reading a PowerPoint online.

Stay on top of deadlines

This applies not only to assignments but to when you are supposed to apply to classes for the next semester and when to apply for the FAFSA or DACA.

Work on campus

Many first-gen students have to work in order to help provide for their families. Working on campus can take the stress off from getting to class on time.

Get a planner and keep track of your schedule

As first-gen students, college is not only new to us, it is also new to our families. A schedule can be helpful to balance school, work, and meeting your responsibilities with your parents. Remember to be patient with your parents, this is also a new experience for them.

Wide Gap in Support for First Generation Students at Institutions [Study]

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