If you’re the first person in your family to go to college—congratulations! There’s something wonderful and very special about being the first in a family to accomplish this, so be proud of yourself. Very proud! This is a new chapter in your life that will set the stage for a bright future. We hope the following tips will provide some helpful insight as you embark on this exciting journey.
1. Aim High
For many students, the top concern about going to college is how to pay for it! Don’t assume that college is beyond your financial reach. Financial aid is available to nearly every student in some form, and as a first-generation student, you may even qualify for scholarships or grants. So, don’t let the concern about cost stop you. Apply now to all of the schools you are interested in, then enlist the help of the schools’ admissions and financial aid departments to explore all available resources. There are many options to help make even a private education more affordable. You may be pleasantly surprised at what you find out!
2. Look Beyond the Classroom
When looking for the college that’s the best fit for you, don’t simply consider classes – consider life beyond the classroom. Check out the school’s campus life, philosophy, atmosphere, support system, mission and vision, reputation, and success rate. As a first-generation student, you must think about every aspect of the school that is important to you. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Will I receive meaningful guidance and direction for my life and career here?
- Does this school reflect my faith and convictions, and is that important to me?
- Are graduates of this school successful?
- Are there campus activities I am interested in?
- Does this school understand and support first-generation students?
- Is this school committed to my success in the classroom and beyond?
You’ll find that a campus visit and conversations with admissions counselors will help answer these questions and others that you may have.
Find out about the events and social gatherings the school offers, such as concerts, campus ministries, community service opportunities, movie nights and sporting events. A vibrant community on campus will enrich your college experience and help you build friendships – and memories — that will last a lifetime.
College is a different level than high school, and that can seem a little overwhelming, especially if no one else in your family has had a college experience. You may need a little extra support along the way. Here are some resources that could be helpful to you on your journey, and you should consider asking about these at schools you’re interested in:
- Tutoring or Other Academic Support: This can take many forms, but does the school you’re considering offer some type of academic assistance when needed? Is tutoring available? Are your professors available and approachable? How does this school support your academic success?
- Career Resources: You’re not just preparing for a career; you’re preparing for life. Most schools will provide services like job placement support, résumé reviews, and interview preparation, but does this school go beyond that? Do they help you figure out how to turn your gifts and talents into a career you’re passionate about?
- Spiritual Resources: If deepening your faith walk is important to you, what does this school offer that supports that? Is faith integrated into the classroom? Are instructors people of faith who can support your growth? Are the chapel services vibrant and engaging? What opportunities will you have for personal, spiritual growth on campus?
4. Check Out ImFirst.org
I’m First! is an online community for first-generation college students, their families, and their supporters. It’s a great place to learn from people who have been there, to find answers to your questions about higher education, and to learn about colleges and organizations that want to help you reach your goals. Hear inspiring stories and share your own, discover colleges that care about first-generation students, and receive guidance on the road to, and through, college.
5. Consider Mentoring Opportunities
An important part of any college community is its faculty. Are the professors at your chosen
schools accomplished, intelligent, successful and passionate individuals whom you respect?
Most colleges allow prospective students to sit in on classes, and you should consider taking advantage of this by sitting in on several classes. You’ll get a feel for the academic culture of the school, how and if they truly integrate faith and learning, and more.
Some questions you may ask yourself include:
• Do these professors seem to genuinely care about their students’ careers and goals? • Do these professors seem approachable?
• Do these professors share my core beliefs?
• Do these professors seem to be people whose direction I would trust?
• Would I want these professors as mentors?
As a first-generation college student, it is critical for you to be learning from, and following, professors that you believe in and who believe in you.
5. Consider How You Will Feel Connected
Everyone wants to feel connected – to other people, and to something bigger than themselves.
As you visit the colleges you’re interested in attending, keep these questions in mind:
• Do I feel safe here?
• Do I feel included and welcomed, even as a visitor?
• Do I think I could build strong friendships here?
• Is there a sense of mission and purpose here that I think I could be part of and get excited about?
Every college out there approaches “community” in a different way. Look for a school that helps foster personal connections, both in and out of the classroom. Although your admissions rep is a great resource, ask to talk to other students on campus about how they have connected.
Remember, this is a celebration! As a first-generation student, exciting new opportunities are opening up. You’ve come a long way, and you have an exciting path ahead of you.