Being a First-Generation Student and College Experience

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 The American dream is for every citizen to have an equal opportunity when it comes to achieving success, and prosperity, however the term “equal opportunity” is being tested by first generation college students. First Generation students tend to receive a whole different experience out of college than those who experience college from the perspective of a traditional student. Their time is usually more sacred than other student’s, they have to deal with things such as work, commuting, cultural differences, etc. These things sometimes affect even their access to college.

In a recent study, evidence was found that first-generation students also receive support and educational encouragement from their parents, just like their peers, however their experience still differs greatly. This is due to the fact that they tend to work extra hours and have bigger responsibilities having to do with their families, because of this, their transition to college tends to be more stress inducing. These reasons including many more affect their college access, they are less likely to apply to college, less likely to attend, and less likely to apply to a higher-ranking college and for those who do choose to attend college usually end up not finishing it according to Ishitani; Ishitani; Nunez & Cuccaro-Alamin.

Being a first-generation student comes with a river of problems, it’s not just one, it’s multiple. A lot of them lack resources within four domains such as, professional, financial, psychological, and academic. Most of them only apply to one college due to the lack of information they receive from their parents. Often parents of first-generation students do not to take their kids on college tours, this leaves them uninformed and increases the chances of them attending a college that isn’t a good fit for them, also increasing the chances of them dropping out.

There is also a pretty big stigma surrounding FGS (first-generation students). A lot of them avoid seeking help from their professors and attempt to hide the fact that they are first generation students. They hide that aspect about themselves because exposing it runs the risk of them being underestimated by their peers and professors. For example, in the video posted by New York Times called “First-Generation Students Unite” Ana Maria Meneses Leon speaks on how when she’s asked where she’s from she states she’s from New Jersey even though she’s actually from Columbia, she does this in order to avoid being pitied by others and underestimated.

First-generation students who have parents that oppose their desire to attend college might receive a negative response if their child wishes to pursue college. This causes students to question whether they should even pursue it. Research has also proven that the lack of encouragement gravely affects the relationship with their parent(s). Sometimes parents of FGS believe that college strips their child away from their own culture, and encourages them take up the values of white America.

One major impact is the lack of information both parents and students have on financial assistance. A lot of them have the notion that even after college they’ll find it difficult to find a job and pay off their student loans, and because of this a lot of students are indecisive on whether putting such a financial burden on their family is worth it.

How do academics fall into all of this? People have questioned whether there’s a link between first-generation academics students and their parent’s educational level. A study was done in which Data was analyzed using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences versions 16.0 Microsoft Excel 2007. 2,054 students took part in this study, 1,319 being first-generation students, two factors were put into consideration, academic, and non-academic. The factors used for academics were GPAs, ACT scores, and ACT subscores. Results showed that the difference between first-generation students and those who were not was significant. ACT scores and subscores were both higher for non-first-generation students, but GPA mean was higher for first-generation students.

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The non-academic factors tested were self-confidence, academic self-appraisal, racial sensitivity, goal orientation, gender sensitivity, support system, leadership experience, and community service, but only four of those showed any significant difference, those being self-confidence, academic self-appraisal, racial sensitivity, and goal orientation. In Choy they said that first-generation students have low expectations when it comes to their academics, and in 1988 Stoecker et al found that a student’s own persistence makes the biggest impact when it comes to successfully transitioning from high school to college.

Berger and Braxton, focused on how social integration can affect a student’s persistence, he did this at a private institution and found that fairness in social and academic regulations had an influence on first-generation student’s level of social involvement. In a separate study it was found academic involvement measured by the number of advisement sessions a student attended was connected to student persistence. However, another study showed that social integration & persistence became stronger as the student progressed through college, and that academic integration was greater during their first two years of college.

Following up on one of the major issues with Access for first-generation students, finances; one thing that parents tend to worry about when sending their kids off to college which also involves finances, is of course whether they’ll be eating enough or not. Considering most first-generation students come from low-income families this can be worrying. Some colleges are trying hard to lessen the number of students going to class hungry, one of those being The University of California at Berkeley. This school targets specific students that might find it harder to meet their food requirements, one of them being first-generation students, the school provides them with additional help. This is known as the swipe program which other schools are also part of.

Furthermore, there’s scholarships and grants that specifically target first generation students. These are given out in order to aid those that have a harder time financially pursuing a higher education. These scholarships and grants are funded by private and public money, and they are

administered according to the requirements for each individual reward. These scholarships and grants usually require an above average GPA and a financial need for college. Some of these scholarships look for specific applicants having to with things such as certain ethnic heritage, or women-only financial aid. These scholarships and grants can be very helpful for first-generation students struggling financially, especially since they tend to be minority groups.

Not only are there programs that benefit FGS but some people even suggest being one isn’t a bad thing. In the paper “Not your typical student” by Wildhagen, T, she suggests that classifying a student as a first-generation student can actually be an empowering term, and that having the first-generation category actually benefits the institution at the expense of the students who are classified as FGS by instilling a strong sense of identity for first-generation students. Some students even use their identity as a reason to be persistent with their work.

There’s First-generation students that do fine academically, and of course some that come from well-off families, this can make their transition to college much easier, although they might still have to deal with the stigma that comes along with it. Overall being a first generation student can be harder than simply being a traditional student, but their are programs out there made to aid and benefit them. Such the swipe out hunger program, which provides students in need with food vouchers. There’s also scholarships and grants targeted specifically towards first-generation students. The difficulties these students face is a problem, but there are more programs being made towards helping these students overcome the stigma and struggles that come with being a first generation-student.

So much affects the transition from highschool to college for a first generation student, it doesn’t stop at their college access. For example there are types of schools that give first-generation students greater opportunities, such as private institutions that are more likely to put more money into their scholarships and grants. Financial aid also helps those who are in need, and there are programs within the college made specifically to help and support First generation students. There are also negative effects such as pitfalls that students might end up facing, for example going back to what i’ve previously said, even after enrolling, a lot of first-generation students end up dropping out; but knowing all these preventative measures can be significant for those who are struggling. 

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