Challenges First Generation College Students Face


Being the first person in your family to attend college is something to be proud of. You’ve made the decision to pursue higher education and strive for a productive career. However, even if you know you’re taking wise steps to prepare for the future, being a first-generation college student is not without its challenges. Here are some of the most common challenges first-generation students face, along with some advice for navigating them. 

Confusion About Logistics

How do you register for classes? What’s a work-study program? How do you get healthcare while in college? Students whose parents and older siblings have attended college know where to turn when they have logistical questions like this. But if you’re the first one in your family to attend college, you may not know where to bring these questions.

A good place to start is with your student advisor. Most colleges have you meet with your advisor once before you enroll in classes, but you can schedule additional appointments whenever needed.

If your advisor can’t answer a question, they will refer you to someone who can, whether that’s your school’s financial office or a faculty member in a different department. Most advisors are happy to email back and forth with their advisees, too, so don’t hesitate to send an email if you have a quick question.

Guilt and Conflict

Some first-generation students struggle with feelings of guilt. They may feel as though they are betraying their family in some way by choosing to pursue a different path. If attending college meant setting aside another opportunity, such as working for a family business, there can also be some family conflict to navigate along the way.

Most colleges have on-campus therapists who are there to help students navigate emotional challenges like this. Seeking therapy early on gives you the opportunity to develop skills you can use throughout your lifetime to resolve relational difficulties and internal conflicts. Setting boundaries with family members is important — and not just for first-generation college students. A therapist can help you set boundaries that are effective, yet kind.

Managing Finances

From scholarships, to student loans, to budgeting for your monthly expenses, college comes with a wide range of financial challenges — especially for first-generation college students. To help you make smarter financial decisions as a college student, consider reading some books on personal finance in your spare time.

Also, reach out to your school’s scholarship office and inquire about grants and scholarships you may be eligible to apply for. There are some designated specifically for first-generation students, and they can go a long way towards paying your tuition.

Fitting In On Campus

Sometimes, first-generation students feel a bit like outsiders. They may not feel like they belong. But if you were accepted into college, you belong there. You do deserve to be there, and you are as much a part of the college as any other student.

Joining clubs can be a great way to get to know other students and start building a community around yourself. You may even meet some other first-generation students who share your feelings and can relate to your challenges. If your school does not have a club specifically for first-generation students, consider forming one yourself.

The choice to attend college is a big one, especially when you’re the first person in your family to have made that choice. College can be an exciting first step towards a lucrative and rewarding career. Keep the advice above in mind, and keep looking ahead. You’re not alone in your challenges, and they can all be addressed with focus and guidance. 

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