First-generation college students often find university life to be vastly different than anything they’ve ever experienced. Even those students who pursued a rigorous course of study in high school may find college daunting. From the admissions process to housing to charting their academic path, first-generation college student struggles may require more intensive help and guidance. TRIO programs at the college level can help these students succeed – and graduate!
Common Challenges for First-Generation College Students
Because these students are the first in their immediate family to attend college, family members cannot provide personal experience to help guide them. And first-generation college students often view their decision to pursue higher education through a different lens than many of their peers. Their expectations for the experience are quite different and vary from student to student. They also face barriers that many of their fellow students do not. The path for these learners is rarely smooth, with additional pressures complicating the process:
Lack of Family Understanding
As recently as 2018, nearly a third of undergraduate students were considered first-generation college students, defined as a student whose parents do not possess a post-secondary degree. These individuals don’t have the benefit of parental guidance when it comes to navigating the college experience. This is a key difference between these students and those from a multi-generational college background. This lack of understanding can result in increased pressure to place family and work priorities ahead of their educational goals. The opposite can be true, as well. Some families place extreme importance on academic success, to the exclusion of all other facets of college life.
Less Financial Support
Because many of these students are the first ones in their families to attend college, there may be little to nothing in the way of money set aside for further education. Grants and scholarships help, of course, but college comes with a wide range of unexpected expenses. First-generation college student struggles often center around a need to navigate financial demands on their own to avoid placing additional burden on their families.
Lack of Guidance
Many students work incredibly hard to get accepted into college and find funding. Once they arrive on campus, however, they may find themselves adrift amid a sea of exciting choices. Because they often don’t have anyone in their family to guide them, they can flounder in charting an effective course. While their advisor can assist them with academic goals, first generation college students can struggle to make connections with mentors, learn efficient study habits, and understand how to navigate the college experience.
Struggle to Succeed/Graduate
For some first-generation college students, the path to a degree can be lengthy. Financial concerns and family obligations lead some students to pause their schooling for periods of time. Some can lose focus and flounder in their coursework, delaying progress toward attaining a degree. Still others can place extreme pressure on themselves to succeed, to the detriment of their personal and social lives as well as to their physical and mental health. This can make earning a four-year degree seem impossible and can effectively halt any thoughts about pursuing higher degrees.
Lack of College Readiness
Because many first-generation college students come from low-income backgrounds, it can also mean they have attended low-performing K-12 schools. Such schools do not provide the quality of education necessary for success in college, even if students are high achievers in these schools. Additionally, parents of first-generation college students may not understand the importance of a quality high school curriculum in relation to college preparedness.
Helping First-Generation College Students Succeed
First-generation college student struggles often begin at home, regardless of their parents’ pride and encouragement. Students who are the first in their families to attend college are in a unique position. They bring a different outlook to the experience compared to their multi-generational peers. Many are defying the expectations of their communities and families just to attend college… so how do you support them?
Define What “First-Generation” Means
Some college students may not realize they are eligible for services because they may not understand what “first generation” means. To add to the confusion, the criteria defining “first generation” can vary from college to college. Defining what first-generation means on your campus will help students to determine their status as well as enable you to assist those who meet the criteria.
Promote Student Support Services
TRIO programs like Student Support Services (SSS) exist to help first-generation college students get up to speed on the skills they need to be successful. Academic tutoring, assistance with finding financial aid, building financial literacy, and guidance in course selection are just a few things SSS provides. Your program can help them to plan their college path and stay on track to graduation. Make your program visible to the entire campus (including among faculty and staff) and encourage students to take full advantage of your services.
Celebrate Their Abilities
Often the focus for first-generation students lies is on what they lack. Lack of funding, college readiness, and family support can all take a toll on these students. Change the way they see themselves by changing the focus to what they bring to the college experience. When these students feel like they belong, they can thrive and enhance your campus community in numerous ways.
Connect Them With Mentors
Far and away, a mentor (or several) is the most helpful way to enable the first-generation college student to navigate the college experience successfully. A mentor is more than a guide in a student’s chosen field of study. A good mentor moves beyond academics and develops a personal relationship with the student, helping them to build a network and look toward the future. In fact, students typically benefit from more than a single mentor. Multiple mentors, who address the various facets of a student’s life and academic career, can help that student become a successful, well-rounded individual.
Conquering First-Generation College Student Struggles
While most first-generation college students arrive on campus with dreams and plans, the reality of college can derail them quickly. It’s important to involve them in TRIO program activities and provide assistance, so they can acclimate and become successful. At many schools, the guidance of Student Support Services helps many first-generation college students to attain a degree.
Without a doubt, TRIO and Student Support Services make success possible in college. TRiO Perks software can help you to manage your program more efficiently. Want to know more? Contact us!