First Person in Your Family to Go to College? What You Should Know Before You Go

Want an accomplishment! You're the first one in your family to go to college. This brings a new and exciting level of responsibility.

It’s important to understand the unique set of challenges as a first-generation college student. But with the right resources and support, you’ll be on your way to academic success, and pave the way for future generations in your family.

Adjusting to a New Environment

While attending college, you will experience a great deal of change. Your friends will be divided, having gone on to pursue degrees or careers in different locations. You are thrust into an environment with new peers and must adjust to unfamiliar personalities. You will miss your family and friends, and may start to feel homesick.

Unique Challenges for First-Generation College Students

As a first-generation college student, your family will not understand what you are going through. You may be on your own when completing college admissions paperwork, securing funding, and navigating the college enrollment process. You will often feel torn between your academic responsibilities and family obligations. On campus, you may experience culture shock, feel like an outsider, and become embarrassed about your socioeconomic status.

Psychological Impact

The changes can be overwhelming and, if you are not careful, these feelings can spiral into anxiety and depression. Lack of support, new responsibilities, and stress can make you feel insecure, hopeless, and unhappy. Depression often leads to decreased academic performance, social withdrawal, substance abuse, risky sexual behavior, and suicide. Yet, there are things you can do to ensure that college is a positive experience.

Tips for Academic and Emotional Success

1. Involve your family.

From the open house to move-in day, involve your parents and family in the college process. Including them will provide them with the answers to any questions they may have. Exposing your family to the college culture will dispel any concerns and help them learn what to expect. Once they understand the challenges you will face in college, they can be more supportive.

2. Look for programs geared towards first-generation college students.

Many colleges have created programs to support first-generation college students, which include peer mentoring, academic planning services, financial counseling, and guidance counseling. These programs are designed to address the needs of first-generation college students by providing additional support.

3. Get involved.

Participate in extracurricular activities. Not only will it give you an opportunity to connect with like-minded students, it will help you feel more comfortable in your new environment. Joining activities and clubs is a helpful way to meet new friends, and build a new support system.

4. Seek support from family, mentors, and peers.

If you start to feel overwhelmed by stress, or become homesick, reach out to family members, friends, peers, and mentors. If you start to recognize the signs of depression (i.e. sadness, fatigue, suicidal thoughts, etc.), talk to your school counselor. If you need additional help, they can refer you to someone specially trained to assist you.

College can present a number of challenges, but utilizing these tips will allow you to achieve academic and emotional success.

Sources:

Bombardi, M. (2013). Colleges try to meet needs of first-generation students. Retrieved from the Boston Globe.

Mayo Clinic. (2013). College depression: What parents need to know. Retrieved from the MayoClinic.

Yale University. (n.d.). Advice for first-generation college applicants. Retrieved from Yale.