5 Tips for First-Generation Students

Julia Shiels '24 is majoring in Graphic Design at Johnson & Wales.

Are you a first-generation student?

First-generation students are students who are the first member of their families to pursue a degree at a four-year university. Many first-gen students haven’t even stepped foot on a college campus before. This can make the college application and admission process seem scary and overwhelming; however, if you are a first-generation student you are not alone. According to the Center for First-Generation Student Success, 1 in 3 college students is first generation, including me. Here’s some advice from my experience. I hope that it helps you as you transition to college.

1. Figure out who your planners are and reach out.

Once you’re accepted to a school, you’ll be assigned advisors, such as academic and financial planners. They’re there to help you and relieve a lot of stress about the information you don’t know. Even before you commit to a school, it is very useful to reach out to these advisors for any questions you have.

Before I even committed to JWU, my parents and I met with my financial advisor to figure out how much everything would be and a payment plan if I committed. At the end, I was so comfortable with everything that I committed to Johnson & Wales that day!

Once you arrive on campus, continue to connect with support resources and first-gen events. For example, JWU is celebrating First-Gen Awareness Day today through the Academic Success Center and Experiential Education & Career Services. The event features a student panel and peer networking.

male student in classroomMore than 30 percent of college students are considered first-generation students.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, even if they seem “obvious.”

Starting this new step in your life can bring many big questions. While you may be afraid to ask questions because they seem really basic, more than likely you are not the only one wondering. Since you haven’t gone through this process before, you are not expected to know these things. Advisors and admissions representatives are there to help you and are always more than happy to answer your questions, no matter how many you have.

>>> Read more: What to Expect When You're Accepted

3. Ask your friends for help.

Even if they are in high school or even if they are first-generation students themselves, sometimes your friends may know something you don’t. They also might be struggling with the same thing, and then you can figure it out together. I asked my friends where they were finding outside scholarships. It relieved a lot of stress, and I started looking at scholarships that were specific to me. It never hurts to ask!

I didn’t even know I was a first-generation student until one of my advisors told me!

4. Look for scholarships/scholarships for first-gen students.

Being a first-generation student is a big accomplishment, and there are often scholarships specifically for students like you. Personally, I didn’t even know I was a first-generation student until one of my advisors told me! Once I knew, I realized that there were so many opportunities for first-generation students to share their stories and earn a scholarship. Make sure you ask one of your advisors about these opportunities!

college student hugs family at move-inAttending college is a huge milestone for first-gen students and their families.

5. Keep your parents in the loop.

Remember, this experience is new to your parents as well. Keeping each other informed is a good way to keep the process as low-stress as possible. My parents and I went through the whole process together, starting junior year of high school. I took a college application boot camp class for students, and they took one for parents. We went on college tours together and met with admissions representatives. I opened every admissions letter with them, and they were there as I signed my decision to come to Johnson & Wales. The process may be scary, but going through it with people who support you makes it much easier. 

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