First Generation College Student Tips for Success

Last Updated on May 22, 2023

A Black female first generation college student poses on campus holding her books.
While college is an exciting prospect, some students may have more at stake than others. After all, they’re the first ones in their families who will potentially graduate from college. These students have a different view of college because there’s no one in their immediate family who can talk to them about what to expect.

Being a first generation college student means you have less knowledge about traditions, patterns, and what to expect in college than freshmen who have someone in their family with collegiate experience. Having someone around to explain college experiences, the potential pitfalls, and the general routine of most college students is an advantage that many students take for granted. But you don’t have that, so you might be feeling a little lost and overwhelmed.

You may also be under a lot of pressure from family and friends who are rooting for you to succeed. That is, if your parents are a hundred percent behind your decision to go to college, whether they’re helping you pay for it or not. This is not always the case for a first generation college student. Not only do they have to work for their dreams on their own, they also have to take flak for being too ambitious. Whatever the case is, don’t let these drawbacks prevent you from pursuing your dream of finishing your college education. There are many first generation college students like you who have succeeded despite the difficulties.

Here are some tips on how to survive college if you are a first generation college student.

Find an College Adviser

A college adviser is necessary because you need all the additional moral support you can get from people who have been to college and who can give advice on how to adjust to a new environment. A satisfactory academic performance in high school does not guarantee the same in college. Having someone there to assure you that you’re on the right track will help dispel self-doubt and boost your confidence. Ideal advisers are your high school teachers and coaches. In college, look for the guidance office and find a counselor.

Be Realistic When Planning Your Schedule

Burn can happen not only to a first generation college student, but to all students in general. The major cause of burn out is biting off more than you can chew in terms of courses and subjects for one semester. Do a self-assessment and figure out which subjects you excel in and pattern your schedule around your strengths. If you’re good in calculations, it’s probably ok to add two more subjects that involve math. If you know you can’t handle too many reading assignments, don’t take on two or more reading-intensive subjects. Pace yourself, especially if you have to work after class.

Be Observant and Ask Questions

As the old adage goes, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”. You can help yourself a lot by observing how others are picking their classes, the clubs they join, and how they handle group work. If you look hard enough, you’ll notice that many of your peers are figuring things out by trial and error, just like you. But some of them may know more, so you always have to ask questions or find solutions to small problems by observing what others are doing.

Focus on Your Goal

Statistics show that first generation college students are more likely to drop out than students that come from a families with collegiate experience. There are many reasons for this, including mixed feelings of guilt and shame.

Some first generation students feel guilty that they’re off to college being brilliant while the rest of the family can hardly make ends meet at home. They may also feel ashamed of their socio-economic status, especially if most of their new friends are more well off and don’t need to work to attend college. Separate your goals from these feelings, which are normal and will always be there. The important thing is to commit completely to your goal of finishing school.

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