Will you be the first in your family to go to college?

Tips to help first-generation college students navigate their post-secondary journey

It feels good to be the first at something, doesn’t it? However, being the first in your family to apply to, attend, and graduate from college can come with a number of complex challenges.

If your conversations at home don’t include stories about college experiences, if your family has mixed feelings about college and how it prepares you for life afterward, or if your family doesn’t know where to turn if you run into a snag, you could be in for a few bumpy patches when you decide to begin studying for your college degree. But no worries; help can come in a number of ways beginning as early as high school.

The most important thing to remember is there isn’t a college on the planet that doesn’t want its students to succeed. The question for you is what kind of programs do colleges offer first-generation students (yes, that’s you), and what resources are available to you to ensure that the challenges that are unique to first-generation students don’t get in your way?

At Keene State College, first-generation students make up about 40 percent of the student population. Whatever college you choose, take comfort in knowing that there are many other students like you.

Here are a few tips for first-generation college students:

  • As soon as you begin to think about your college search, check in with your high school guidance counselor to see if there is a program at the high school level that can help you make the transition to college. Upward Bound is a federally funded program for high school seniors that helps them prepare for the college experience. The program can also help you through the college application stage and the financial aid process.
  • Another college preparatory program that focuses on New Hampshire students is the Educational Talent Search. Find more information online. (www2.ed.gov/programs/triotalent)
  • Some colleges offer summer bridge programs that prepare students for the transition to college. There may even be a credit or two for the program to help you get started.
  • OK, you just entered your first year in college; what’s next? This first year is really important and will position you for the rest of your time in college. Getting acclimated to a new environment, living away from home, meeting new friends, and getting used to a new set of expectations around your academic work can be daunting. Many colleges pay particular attention to the challenges of this first year and have created a series of programs that will help see you safely into your sophomore year. Ask about first-year programs at any school that you apply to.
  • Offices that provide advising services can help in a number of ways. They can help you select the appropriate courses for your major and for the required general education curriculum. They can also look ahead to the next year or two to make sure you stay on track to complete your degree.
  • If you are having difficulty with a particular subject, don’t be embarrassed to ask for help. Most colleges offer tutoring services. The most common subjects that students look for assistance with are math and writing, but there may be help in other areas as well.
  • Finally, it’s never too early to start thinking about life after college. What kind of career are you interested in? Will you need advanced study to get there? Would an internship open the right doors for you? A career placement office can help you answer those important questions.

Dr. Anne Huot, president of Keene State College, is a first-generation student herself. She grew up in Manchester, one of seven children, and was the first in her family to graduate from college.

“One of the things I found most helpful as a first-generation student, was the connection I was able to make with members of the faculty,” she said. “This made a difference for me not only in my major and while I was an undergraduate, but the encouragement that I received from one of my faculty members continued to be an important element of my success for years after I completed my degree. It was gratifying to know that support was there even after I went on to graduate work and started my professional career.”

Many researchers agree that the benefits of a college education are well worth the investment you will make in effort and financial commitments. A solid preparation for professional work, increased job opportunities and earning capacity, and the kind of skills that will benefit you in multiple career tracks, are just a few. There is help to make it a reality for you as a first-generation college student.

Kathleen Williams is associate vice president for marketing and communications at Keene State College.

Categories: Advice