Skip Nav

6 College Application Essay Tips for First-Gen Students

What Happened to Serena Williams at the U.S. Open Happens to Black Girls in School Every Day

❶If such traditional qualifications as test scores, grades, and extracurricular activities may not be as great as the one of other applicants because you have a first generation status, it can be a mitigating factor for the committee.

How Opening Up to My Colleagues Made Me Realize Social-Emotional Learning Isn’t Just For Students

First Generation College Students FAQs
How colleges choose the best candidates
Parents of First Generation College Students FAQs

These students are more likely to attend college in order to help their parents, bring honor to their family, and gain personal respect Bui, Moreover, first-generation students more commonly internalize their educational attainment Aspelmeier, Negative stereotypes about socially marginalized groups hold that any lack of socioeconomic success may be attributed to internal deficits rather than social, historical, or situational injustice.

A student who identifies as a member of one of these groups may feel anxious about confirming such negative stereotypes through her individual achievement.

For more on stereotype threat, see ReducingStereotypeThreat. High-achieving people may feel that their success has nothing to do with their individual efforts or talents.

Instead, they attribute their success to external factors such as luck, coincidence, or the ease of an endeavor. For more on impostor syndrome, see this article from the Caltech Counseling Center. Levels of Parental Engagement: Upon making the decision to attend college, first-generation students may feel disconnected or misunderstood by their families and communities Davis, Regardless of the term used, feeling unsupported has consequences on the educational attainment of first-generation students.

Sources of knowledge about college: The transition to college may be especially difficult for first-generation students because of the foreignness of the experience among their social networks. As a result, integrating into this new culture is a much more fraught experience. First-generation students must learn not only the content of their classes but the social rules and roles of academia. K educational experiences have a large effect on college academic performance and psychological health Tinto, During the first year of college, first-generation students report markedly lower GPAs than continuing-generation students Warburton et al.

The characteristics of first-generation students, of course, do not exist in a social vacuum. An intersectional lens can help educators account for the unstable, combinatory nature of difference.

In its simplest form, it is the understanding that race, class, gender, and sexuality always exist in relation to one another. To be a black woman, then, is not the same as being black, or as being a woman, but rather it is a specific embodiment. This term, popular in the social sciences and humanities, is a valuable analytic to understand student experience. For more information on intersectionality in teaching and learning, see the Vanderbilt Guide to Feminist Pedagogy.

For more on teaching and difference, see the following guides from the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching: Disability , Stress , and Feminist Pedagogy. This is all to say that, the following picture of first-generation students is extrapolated from existing data, but, significantly, it does not apply to every situation or student.

Differences that make students unique must be accounted for. In demographic terms, though, there are useful data for us to consider on race, class, and gender. While the portion of first-generation students, relative to all students, has diminished since —a fact attributable, in part, to greater educational attainment in the United States overall—the demographic composition of this group has also shifted Saenz et al.

Since , the first-generation student population has skewed increasingly toward women and Hispanic. This shift should gives us pause because it represents decreasing access to higher education among certain populations.

This discrepancy should motivate us, as educators, to comprehend the pervasive social consequences of college attainment and universalize the experience for all who seek it. Academically, first-generation students perform poorly compared to their continuing-generation peers. While in college, first-generation students report lower GPAs than continuing-generation students Warburton et al.

In a study, average freshman GPA was 2. Unfortunately, a need for remediation is significantly linked to dropping out of college Pulley, A deficit of rigorous high school coursework often leaves first-generation students unprepared for the learning practices that facilitate success at college, such as effective studying, peer collaboration, and efficient note taking. When combined with the general invisibility of study skills in college classrooms Wingate, , the newfound rigor of college coursework places first-generation students at a disadvantage compared to other students.

Research shows that first-generation students study fewer hours than other students Terenzini et al. The distinct academic lives of first-generation and continuing-generation students is partially attributable to the different courses and majors first-generation students are likely to choose.

Perhaps because, as we have seen, first-generation students are more likely to attend college to get ahead financially and help their families, they are more likely to choose vocational or vocationally-oriented programs. For instance, first-generation students are more likely to major in business or a technical field than other students.

Conversely, they are less likely to choose a major in the humanities, fine arts, and sciences Terenzini et al. Without the informed advice of parents or other college-educated adults, first-generation students often struggle to choose courses that are appropriate for their academic level and correspond to their motivations for pursuing a college degree.

These students may not find the advising they need on campus, either. Academic advisors are not always trained on the differences between first-generation and continuing-generation students and thus often fail to meet the needs of the former Kocel, ; Payne, That first-generation students take significantly longer to choose a major—an early indicator of college attrition—is evidence of their poorly met advising needs.

In the classroom, first-generation students demonstrate several notable characteristics that may alter their experience in the classroom and negatively impact overall learning. When it comes to academic aspirations and achievement generally, first-generation students report anxiety more frequently and more acutely than other students Martinez et al.

Researchers, including Davis and Peetet, Montgomery, and Weekes , attribute this anxiety to the imposter syndrome and the stereotype threat phenomenon. Feelings of anxiety intensify the isolation of first-generation students in the classroom. Not only are they less likely to speak out in class than other students, but first-generation students are also much less likely to report positive interactions with faculty.

Thus, the distress and isolation of first-generation students further hampers a successful college experience. Unfortunately, impostor syndrome and stereotype threat hinder first-generation students beyond the classroom, as well.

The data support Mr. Moy on this point. When asked to reflect on their college experience, first-generation students report feeling less confident and isolated at higher rates than continuing-generation students Davis, Considering that these students are also more likely to live off campus Davis, How does all of this research about first-generation students translate into classroom principles and practices?

Unfortunately, little research exists about the most effective strategies for enhancing the learning outcomes of first-generation students. At least partially, this dearth in the research literature should be understood as an effect of the complexities of collecting reliable data from the patchwork quilt of classrooms that make up higher education.

Differences between institutions 4-year vs. Lastly, as mentioned in the introduction to this guide, interventions for first-generation students at the institutional level may yield the most significant positive results, given that students will take many courses from many different instructors during their path to an undergraduate degree. This is not to say, however, that classroom instructors are powerless in the effort to help first-generation students be successful.

The following list comprises the most impactful recommendations for teaching first-generation college students. Although it may come with great individual freedom, college also comes with a number of unwritten rules, both cultural and academic.

These rules may seem, after years in the academy or growing up in a family of college-educated people, completely commonsense. Yet, to first-generation students, they are anything but. To help students familiarize themselves with both the cultural and academic rules of college, instructors should be as transparent as possible about their expectations in every activity and assignment. Gains were seen in all students as a result of increased transparency.

The effect, however, was much more significant for first-generation and low-income students. To make assignments more transparent, instructors should ask themselves and then report to students their answers to the following three questions:. The rigor of most college coursework requires the development of effective study skills. Instructors should not assume, especially in lower-level courses, that all students have the necessary study skills to succeed.

Because first-generation students are more likely to isolate themselves academically and socially, they often miss out on the benefits of group study. To prevent this, instructors should organize formal study groups that incorporate all students. The level of supervision given to these groups may range. Instructors may choose to have a student who successfully passed the class previously or a graduate student participate in student study groups to provide information or record attendance.

It may be suitable to include study group attendance and participation as part of a course participation grade. Particularly positive results have been observed when faculty show an active interest in such groups.

Grading rubrics make explicit the criteria by which complex assignments are evaluated. This makes rubrics particularly useful for first-generation students. First-generation students may not be familiar with the procedures of discussion in academia. Instructors should take opportunities throughout the semester to model an ideal discussion.

Indeed, because discussion may vary across disciplines making your expectations about in-class discussion transparent will be beneficial to all students. For more on leading productive classroom discussions, see the following guide to discussions from the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching.

Instructors must incorporate first-generation experiences into the curriculum in the same way that we attend to other forms of diversity.

In disciplines where reading and discussion take up most of class time, texts by first-generation authors should be assigned, and discussions should, where possible, center the experiences of first-generation students.

In all disciplines, instructors should be explicit about available accommodations or support services available to first-generation students. The problem of educational retention and attrition among first-generation students persists even after these students receive their undergraduate degrees, which explains why first-generation students are less likely to enter doctoral programs than their peers Choy, ; Hoffer et al. This, in turn, creates a pipeline issue for first-generation college faculty, given that terminal degrees are a pre-requisite for most faculty positions.

In other words, first-generation college students have difficulty locating a first-generation role model on the faculty, which in turn makes it harder to recruit and train first-generation faculty. Whenever possible, then, professors who identify as first-generation students should make their first-generation status explicit.

Kim and Sax show that greater frequency of positive interaction between first-generation students and instructors translates into greater academic, social, and emotional gains. To achieve this, instructors might schedule one-on-one conferences with students, make office hours mandatory a certain number of times in a semester, or invite students to come early to class or stay behind to talk.

If a class is too large to support these types of individualized interventions, an instructor may nonetheless promote closer relationships with students through personal surveys handed out to all students at the beginning of the semester or by sharing appropriate personal information about herself. Therefore, faculty members should consider what opportunities may exist for collaborative research with undergraduates and which students take advantage of such opportunities.

Students will feel more integrated into campus life and more supported overall. Promote grit, lessen the stereotype threat and the imposter syndrome: As we have seen, however, they frequently internalize their educational achievement, relying heavily on a personal locus of control and self-motivation.

In research projects, students should be encouraged to think about the process of research as much as the product. Ask students to turn in multiple drafts of their research findings. Another way to train for grit is to assign challenging material—a complex novel or an innovative research article—and spend time with students picking it apart.

Assign the same text twice if students struggle. In this way, we teach students that failure is a normal part of academia and of life. Indeed, much of what is commonly considered to be hallmark of an educated person is instead the cultural capital accrued from being a member of a privileged class, race, gender, etc.

For Doug Lederman , it is this difference in cultural capital that divides first- and continuing-generation students. In their book Rethinking College Student Persistence Braxton and colleagues show that greater levels of cultural capital translates into greater engagement and social integration. In the classroom, then, instructors should avoid assuming that students will know certain culturally-specific information, such as the albums of The Beatles , or that they will have had culturally-specific experiences, such as travel abroad, because these represent a particular social class, race, gender, etc.

Rather, instructors should look to include privileged cultural elements from a variety of communities and cultures. This disrupts the sheen of universality that accompanies elite Western culture. At the same time, instructors can help students gain cultural capital that will serve them in other classes and later in life.

Lederman, for instance, cites a Wofford College program, Novel Experience , that pays for students, in small groups, to eat dinner at a fancy restaurant. Joined by a professor, the students discuss a previously assigned novel while getting to know the professor, their classmates, and the ins and outs of fine dining. Although somewhat limited in their ability to reach out to parents, instructors may want to assign that re-connect students with their families and home communities, such as ethnographic or auto- biographical work.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act FERPA , also known as the Buckley Amendment, protects the privacy of student records and prohibits sharing information about students, even to their parents, without express consent. In Investment in Learning , former president of Grinnell College and the University of Iowa Howard Bowen argues that society must vigorously support higher education. A college degree is an investment whose benefits exceed the individual degree holder to disperse throughout society.

This simple idea—college completion benefits the individual and the community—is central to the missions of many institutions of higher education. It should give us pause, then, that first-generation students attain college degrees at lower rates and with more difficulties than continuing-generation students.

Although our nation has more college students than ever, the majority of these college degrees go to students from higher income brackets.

What happened to the social mission of higher education? The findings of this teaching guide can be summarized as follows. First-generation students learn differently from other students. Before college starts, they are likely to have missed out on many opportunities that facilitate attainment of a college degree, including completion of rigorous coursework, development of study skills, and accumulating cultural capital.

Once at college, first-generation students are likely to experience isolation from their peers and faculty.

Classroom instructors can foster first-generation student success by addressing the unique obstacles facing first-generation students. These texts are invaluable resources for educators and administrators seeking to learn more about first-generation students, along with any of the texts cited in the references section of this guide. Several advocacy and research organizations exist for first-generation students. This guide focuses on teaching first-generation undergraduate students.

Lastly, in following the recommendations offered here within, the author of this guide, Ben Galina, would like to come out as a first-generation student. A moderator model of generational status. How can I help my child adjust to life away from home? And are there resources for parents struggling to adjust to their children being away at college? Be sure to listen to your student, keep an open mind, and seek out as much information as you can.

Find peers at parent-teacher nights and via extended family members who may be experiencing the same thing. There is strength in numbers!

Where can I find resources and information specifically for first generation college applicants? When working with first generation college applicants, begin early — for example, during their first year of high school — in order to prepare them for any necessary prerequisites or advanced placement courses they may need to take for admission into their schools or programs of interest. Be sure to encourage them to apply, even if they seem uncertain — since uncertainty is normal among first generation college students.

What are some academic guidance resources I can provide to my students in search of viable options for career paths? The College Board has some excellent resources for deciding on a college major. Students can explore careers by answering a few questions and researching potential life paths, online. Students should realize there are a number of online learning opportunities available to them, as well.

Many colleges and universities have extensive admissions pages providing resources and information about how students can begin to apply. Encourage students to focus on a few key points , rather than trying to share everything about themselves at once. Oftentimes, simply speaking out loud helps writers organize and focus their thoughts, before putting them in writing. How can I provide the best support to first generation college applicants who come to me for support?

As first generation college students, they are very important to the future of diversity and inclusion in our country, and their futures hold a wide variety of paths to choose from. Skip to main content. What degree level are you interested in pursuing?

Master's or Graduate Certificate. Next Step We value your privacy. Which degree program are you most interested in? Who is this brochure for? We value your privacy. Resources for First Generation College Students.

Online Degrees Why Maryville?

Who first generation college students are

Main Topics

Privacy Policy

Theoretically, first generation college students come from a range of categories, including: Ethnic; Socioeconomic; Geographic. Being a first generation student can indicate many other things about your personality, and you can use them as interesting factors for the admissions committee.

Privacy FAQs

Dec 15,  · As a first generation on college student you learn the importance of education. While watching your parents trying to make ends meet. As I look into the road ahead. I see all the opportunities that a have in front of me. By going to college I can succeed and transform into a better student and.

About Our Ads

For most first generation college students (FGCS), it’s an honor and a privilege to have the opportunity to attend college that their parents may not have had. Along with this important opportunity, challenges arise, but these students need to know they are supported by their families, communities and schools. Being the first in your family to attend college means a lot. While the weight of our parents' hard work may feel like a burden, being a first-generation college student gives us an edge over our peers. We know .

Cookie Info

Would you like to get help with academic papers like term papers, research papers, essays and dissertations? We offer professional academic writing services while posting free essays online like the above Psychology: Sample Essay on First Generation College Students. Reflection essay universite libre de bruxelles the university of chicago in subject line a message is sent how long should a college application essay be generation first back to their. Spending between 93 and hours without a thesis option provides students with the .