The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
On Monday, November 8, of this year, Augustana College celebrated National First-Generation College Student Day. First-generation students signed a banner that was hung along 5th Avenue that day. There was also a reception at the Gerber Center, where President Steven Bahls made a brief speech before the cake was served and Augie1Gen Rising Scholars T-shirts were given. Approximately a third of the college student population in the United States consists of first-generation students. As a first-gen student myself, I am proud of my identity despite the challenges that it brings. Here are some facts about first-generation students that you should know.
Who qualifies as a first-generation college student?
If neither of your parents has a four-year college degree, then you are a first-generation college student. Some people try to limit this term to people who are the first in their family to attend college, but as long as your parents do not have a bachelor’s degree, then you can identify yourself as first-gen. For example, I have an older brother who went to college a year before me, but both of us are still first-generation college students. Having an older sibling who attends college is nowhere near as influential as it is to be raised by parents who both have college degrees, so a college student should not be excluded from expressing this identity just because they happen to be a younger sibling of someone who is also in college or a graduate.
Why are first-generation college students more likely to struggle than their peers?
First-gen students often have trouble reaching out for help. While their continuing-generation peers may simply be able to ask their parents for advice on college applications or whether they should go to grad school or not, first-gen students often cannot do that because their parents have no experience with college. Furthermore, people who are among the first in their family to continue their education may be seen as role models for the younger family members, so some first-generation students may view seeking help as a sign of weakness. According to a study done by NASPA, first-generation college freshmen were less likely than their continuing-generation peers to use the health services, academic advising, and tutoring offered by the college.
What programs exist to serve the first-generation college student population?
This mainly depends on the college or university. At Augustana, for example, there is a program called Augie1Gen Rising Scholars, which supports and celebrates first-generation college students, as well as faculty and staff who were first-gen. They hold events throughout the academic year for first-gen students to find a community of other young adults who are in a similar situation. Also, a new program called TRIO was launched this academic year in order to provide academic and financial support for first-gen students, as well as low-income students and people with disabilities. Through TRIO, first-gen students are able to receive free tutoring for their classes. They can also rent laptops or textbooks, participate in special workshops that educate them about topics like career advice and graduate school preparation, and apply for a grant that will help them pay for college.
In conclusion, although first-generation college students may face challenges throughout their time in college, they are empowered to become successful with the support of friends, professors, and advisors.