Advice for First-generation Students

Thursday, July 07, 2022
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Going to college is exciting. But it can also be a daunting experience, especially if you're the first person in your family to achieve this milestone. You know that you'll be sitting side-by-side with students whose parents and relations have provided them with all the resources they need to succeed. Unfortunately, this can bring a lot of pressure and uncertainty, when nobody in your family understands exactly how you feel. Don't worry - we understand how you feel, and we've provided seven steps you can follow to navigate the unique challenges first-generation students face. Let's go!

Embrace your identity

It's natural to feel intimidated or nervous every once in a while, but you must be ready to shake it off and put yourself out there intentionally. You don't have to come from a long line of professors or doctors to fit in. Embrace your background and share it where possible. This way, you'd become more confident in sharing your perspective in important discussions. Making it this far shows how smart you are; don't let misconceptions about not belonging rob you of your learning experience.

Join your school's first-gen club

Like you, there'll be other first-generation students in your school. It'll be great to find them and share ideas with them. Fortunately, most colleges have first-generation clubs where you can meet people like you and access resources tailored exclusively for first-generation students. 

Remember, you're the first in your family to attend college, so you'll not know what to expect. However, joining a community will help make your transition easier.

Make new friends

There's probably no better way to navigate college life than with friends that care. College is a new experience for you, and you'll sometimes feel like an imposter. But once you find people you can trust and share experiences with, you'll be surprised at how easy most college work will become. Making new friends shouldn't be too difficult. Just be open about your personality and interests, and you'll attract friends you'll be comfortable with.

Ask Questions

College is expensive, and you don't want to waste all that money and still struggle to pass tests. So it's essential to give it your best shot from the start. Ask questions whenever and wherever possible. Email your professor for clarification when you do not understand a class or assignment. Write to the Financial Aid Office for answers about grants, scholarships, and loans. Connect with platforms like NSHSS for answers to questions relating to scholarships and other resources for first-generation college students. There's no better way to experience college than to gain as much understanding as possible beforehand.

Find a mentor

Although often overlooked, this is one of the best steps any first-generation student should take to succeed in college. Your mentor can be a professor or a grad student, depending on who you can connect with. Just make sure they are of a similar background to you. This way, they'll understand your struggles and provide practical coaching and advice based on your lifestyle to help you succeed.

Always communicate with your parents

College is new territory, and as a first-generation student, it can often feel like you're walking this path blindfolded. Your parents have not been there either, but they can offer advice and encouragement where possible. They'll also remind you of the need to work hard and stay dedicated to your schoolwork. Besides, it's an opportunity for you to let them into your college life. They'll be excited to hear about college life and how you're navigating it.

Work hard!

This is college, and you'll be sitting side-by-side with students who have prepared their entire lives for college life. Many of them already have tons of resources you don't know about. But don't get discouraged–hard work trumps everything. You can catch up if you're disciplined and work hard to study. Ultimately, hard work helps you close the gap between you and more privileged students. 


That's it–a look at some steps to help you overcome the challenges of being a first-generation college student. It's a marathon, not a sprint, so getting used to the new system may take time. But these steps will help you navigate the initial difficulties of being the first person to attend college from your family. Reach out to the NSHSS here for more tailored advice to help you adapt to college life.