As a first generation college student, I knew almost nothing about how to navigate the college environment. I wasn’t sure who to talk with or where to direct my questions. I felt completely lost and I couldn’t rely on my parents’ experiences because they didn’t go to college. My story is that of most first generation college students.
Unfortunately, many colleges and universities make the assumption that students have a basic knowledge of how college works. Orientation programs cater to those individuals who already know how to navigate a college campus and often have the lifelines to help them if they run into trouble.
The college experience at a Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) can be a bit different for first generation college students. They are welcomed, nurtured and supported immediately. Why? Because these institutions are used to serving students who are the first individuals in their families to attend college. MSIs have comprehensive summer bridge programs that are focused on providing the tools needed for college survival. Many of these programs allow students to earn college credits before they begin college officially, giving them a head start.
MSIs also have extensive staff and peer mentoring programs for first generation students. In these programs, students not only get assistance with their academic lives but they are helped to balance academics and a healthy college social life. They are also helped in their move from family to college, as this transition can be very difficult, with students feeling out of place once they return home over breaks and during the summer. Being able to talk with students who have had similar transitions to college is empowering and reassuring, especially during the first two years of college since once a student gets to his or her junior year, success is just around the corner.
MSIs have diverse faculties and also many faculty members who hail from local areas. These faculty members have often had similar experiences to their students and know how to overcome common obstacles. More importantly, they are willing to share their strategies for college success.
Lastly, for those first generation students that are underprepared for some college subjects — for example, math or writing — MSIs have extensive developmental courses that lack stigmatization and instead push students forward and ensure their success in the college curriculum overall. Again, peer tutoring — from students who have taken developmental classes — and computer assisted learning are powerful tools to help first generation students succeed.