8 Things All First-Gen Students Should Consider Before Choosing a College

In this guide, first-generation college students can learn what factors to consider when applying to colleges and choosing a school to attend.
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  • First-generation college students are learners whose parents do not hold bachelor's degrees.
  • Approximately 90,000 students are considered first-generation in the United States.
  • Plenty of resources exist specifically for first-generation learners.

According to the Center for First-Generation Student Success (CFGSS), nearly 90,000 first-generation students were enrolled in college in the U.S. during the 2015-16 academic year.

As the first members of their families to attend college, first-generation students sometimes know less about the process of applying to and attending college than their peers.

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Fortunately, they don't have to do it alone. Read on to learn about the eight factors all first-generation college students should consider before enrolling.

1. How Do Colleges Feel About First-Generation Students?

According to the Pew Research Center, schools consider learners first-generation students if neither of their parents earned a bachelor's degree. Most colleges and universities welcome first-generation students, with many offering scholarships and financial support specifically for first-gen students.

Examples of schools that currently offer these types of awards include Arizona State University, the University of Kentucky, and the University of Colorado Boulder.

2. What Are the Graduation Rates?

According to CFGSS, 56% of first-generation college students had not graduated within six years of matriculating during the 2015-16 academic year. Conversely, only 40% of continuing-generation students had failed to graduate within six years.

Because first-generation students sometimes do not receive the same emotional and financial support as their peers whose parents possess bachelor's degrees or higher, they may struggle to complete their studies.

Lack of generational wealth plays a major role in first-generation graduation rates. Although factors outside their control can challenge these learners, they can still succeed in college with the proper tools and preparation.

3. What Will College Cost Each Semester?

Because first-gen college students sometimes lack financial support from their families, they must carefully consider how much college will cost.

In addition to tuition, other common expenses include textbooks, learning fees, and school supplies. Students who plan to live on campus must take into account the cost of dorms and meal plans, whereas commuter students need to consider costs related to transportation.

Many universities provide net cost calculators to help students plug in details and estimate actual expenses. Learners should also make sure they fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and maximize all financial support from the U.S. Department of Education.

4. How Far From Home Do I Want to Attend College?

Many students deal with homesickness during their college years, but first-generation students may be more susceptible. Because members of their family have not attended college, they may be surprised by how difficult it can be to leave home for school.

Some first-gen students decide to stick closer to home while completing their bachelor's degree. Cost may also be a factor in making this decision, as in-state tuition is almost always cheaper than out-of-state and private school tuition.

5. Is This a Good College for My Major?

Just because a college is near a first-generation student's home or charges lower tuition rates doesn't mean the school is the best fit for them.

If a particular school doesn't offer the major you want to study, or isn't well regarded for that major, you may need to continue your college search.

If you know what you want to major in, research prospective schools to see whether your field of study is offered at those institutions. Students can read about the professors in their chosen departments to learn about faculty interests, experience, and research.

If you're unsure what you want to major in, make sure you prioritize schools with well-rounded offerings.

6. What Student Services Are Available?

Data from CFGSS shows that first-generation college students were more likely to use financial aid services but less likely to access academic support, advising, and health services in 2015-16.

Because these students' families may not have the experience necessary to provide college-specific support, it's even more important for these learners to take advantage of student services.

In addition to general services available to all learners, some colleges provide first-generation student offices to help with specific questions and needs. The University of Kentucky's first-generation student services, for example, includes access to an honor society, a living-learning community, a scholars program, student conferences, and scholarships.

7. What Size College Do I Want to Attend?

The size of a college can make a big difference in the student experience, and it's something first-generation learners must consider when making their decision.

Some degree-seekers may prefer a smaller university setting, as they're less likely to fall through the cracks and tend to get better access to one-on-one support. Other learners, in contrast, may feel more at home at larger universities, which typically offer a broader selection of extracurricular activities and student clubs.

Students should compare offerings from both large and small colleges — and tour them if possible — to get a sense of what everyday life would look like at each.

8. Will I Feel at Home on Campus?

One of the most important questions first-generation college students should ask themselves is whether they'll feel at home on a particular campus. Visiting schools, taking tours, and talking to current students can help them answer this question.

Students can also use data to make their decision. Most schools publish information on student body demographics. If you can't find this information online, email an admissions counselor and ask for it directly. This can help you identify how many other first-generation students currently attend that school.

You can also ask about student diversity centers and opportunities for first-generation mentorship.

Feature Image: Terry Vine / The Image Bank / Getty Images

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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