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Experience

How Might A First Generation College Student’s Experience Be Different?

First-generation students tend to come from working class families from various cultural and ethnic backgrounds. First-generation students may start at a community college, attend college part-time, live off-campus or with family or relatives, delay entering college after high-school graduation or work full-time while enrolled in classes. While immersed in the exciting and labor-intensive experience of college, some first-generation students receive less support from their families while in school. Their families may not understand the demands of college work. Students may also feel added responsibility from families to be ‘the one who succeeds’ in college. This may increase the pressure the individual already experiences as a new student.

Despite having good academic performance in high school, first-generation students are susceptible to doubts about their academic and motivational abilities. Such individuals may believe that they are not college material. Because of these numerous obstacles, and because they may have to manage the demands of family and different cultures of home and college, first generation students may find it difficult to feel integrated socially and academically. Fortunately, there are things these students can do to gain confidence and feel more comfortable.

If you are a first-generation college student, you should first know that you are not alone. Many of the feelings you experience are normal and to be expected. First-generation students often experience a range of feelings about being the first in their family to attend and complete college. What are some common feelings?

Excitement and Anxiety

Excitement and Anxiety

Many students have mixed emotions about being away from home at college, living on their own and being the first in the family to attend college. These students may ask themselves, “Am I cut out to be a college student?” despite their stellar academic performance in high school. It is common to experience both excitement and anxiety at this time.

Responsibility

Responsibility

Many first-generation students have to help pay for their education, perhaps more so than students of higher socioeconomic backgrounds. In addition to financial responsibility, family and friends may pressure students to return home often. These individuals may receive mixed messages about their changing identities. For instance, students may both want to succeed feel conflicted about not wanting to be different from the rest of the family and friends.

Pride

Pride

These students often feel an overwhelming sense of pride about being the first in their families to attend and complete college. A college degree can provide many opportunities. This is an important accomplishment!

Guilt

Guilt

In addition to pride, many first-generation students may feel guilty about having the opportunity to attend college while others in the family did not have that opportunity. These students may wonder if it is fair for them to be at school while their parents struggle financially at home. They may feel the need to go home to support their families. First-generation students may also feel guilty about their academic performance if it is not as good as they or their families would like.

Embarrassment and Shame

Embarrassment and Shame

These students may feel embarrassment over their socioeconomic status or the level of education in their family. First-generation students may try to act like their family is more highly educated or financially advantaged than they really are. There may be embarrassment around being different from their peers at college. This may be particularly true if their peers have a long lineage of family members attending college or if they seem to know the ‘lingo’ when a first-generation student may not.

Confusion

Confusion

First-generation students may feel ‘out of the loop’ when it comes to college processes and procedures. For instance, some individuals struggle with applications, graduation and job or graduate school searches. They may not be aware of the resources available to them or of options available to them after graduation.

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