Tips for First Generation Students


By: Annie Bierman. Published: February 11, 2011

1. Engage in the community of higher education by going to your professor’s office hours at least twice each semester, involving yourself with other students through extra-curricular activities and study groups, and getting to know the support staff in offices like Financial Aid and Student Services.  Personal connections with people improve the odds that a student will complete her/his degree.

2. Become acquainted with the language of college life. Words like matriculation and prerequisite are often unfamiliar to students who are new to college life and to parents who have not attended college.  Not knowing the language and not asking for the meanings of unfamiliar terms leaves students feeling like outsiders who don’t know the language of the community.

3. Come to terms with the fact that college is about collaboration and cooperation. While many first-gen students get to college because they work well independently and are extraordinarily determined to succeed, they often won’t ask for help.  Sometimes students won’t ask for clarification in class or for advice from the financial aid counselor.  Other times students need to ask for support from family members, but are hesitant to do so.   First-gen students need to learn that there are many, many resources on campus to assist them in completing their degree.

4. Realize you are NOT an impostor. Many first-gen students feel like they don’t belong in college, but knowing that there are not only many first-gen students at McKendree, but also many first-generation professors should help these students understand they are not only welcome to be at McKendree, but are also an important part of the McKendree community.

5. Believe in the dream. Research indicates an important component to student success is the student’s belief that they can succeed.  If a first-gen student is coming from a background where very few friends or family members complete a college degree, some friends and family may negatively influence the determination and persistence of a first-gen student.