First-generation college students experience college differently than their non-first-gen student peers. According to Jennifer Engle at the American Federation of Teachers: “While students whose parents have a college education tend to experience ‘college as a continuation’ of their academic and social experiences in high school, going to college often constitutes a ‘disjunction’ in the lives of first-generation students and their families. As a result, first-generation students have to make much more complex academic, social, and cultural transitions to college life, especially during the crucial first year.” [1]

Since their parents lack postsecondary education, first-generation college students “could not expect or receive guidance from their family and were not confident enough to seek the support of teaching or administrative staff ” demonstrating a significant social capital cap between first and non-first-gen students. [2] As such, first-generation students enter college with a set of distinctive barriers,  and therefore are at a higher risk to drop out, take longer to complete their program, choose unfamiliar careers, or end up in employment much below their potential. [3]

Research on academic and social integration of first-generation students has shown that their interaction with faculty or advisers was limited and that first-generation students are more hesitant to seek help from these support services. [2] Even with the same academic preparation and performance, first-generation students are still less likely to experience successes in college, especially in the first year.[4]

These barriers must be addressed at the personal, institutional, and systemic levels to ensure that more first-generation college students who wish to pursue postsecondary education not only get to, but through college. Colleges and universities must better understand the specific needs of first-generation college students, and implement specific programs to better support them. Students and administrators must come together to move their institutions forward and better ensure success for all.   

Scholarly Research Articles 

College access

Social Mobility

First-Gen Achievement