First-Generation Students are Determined Learners, Though Still Under-Supported By Colleges

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BestColleges and a panel of education experts explore the value and diversity of first-generation students while discussing how schools can better support them.

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May 1, 2019 (Seattle, WA) - BestColleges, a leading provider of college planning resources and higher education research, welcomed a panel of education experts to discuss first-generation students, how they add value and diversity to higher education, and what institutions can do to better support them in their transition to college. These discussions are part of BestColleges’ latest perspectives publication, which blends proprietary research, op-ed content, and expert panels to tackle complex issues in higher education. 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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First-generation students make up roughly one-third of all college students and contribute to a diverse learning environment. They represent wide ranges in age, backgrounds, socio-economic levels, ethnicities, and interests. With a focus on career outcomes, these students have immense pressure to succeed and are often more determined than their student peers to reach their goals.

Yet, many of these first-generation students are overcoming what is often a late start to the college preparation process compared to their legacy counterparts. Since they haven’t received years of preparation from parents and other family members, these students tend to be less prepared academically, psychologically, and socially for the rigors of higher education. At the same time, they are often overlooked and under-supported by school administrators because they don’t fit the mold of a typical degree seeker. This is why BestColleges and the expert panel explored the challenges of becoming a first-generation college graduate without the insight that comes from parents and guardians who have gone through the process.

"In many cases, first-generation students struggle to transition into college because they are unaware of the support systems and resources available to them prior to enrolling at an institution. Legacy students may already anticipate resources such as having an academic advisor, having access to a writing center, and opportunities to join student clubs while first-generation students may need an introduction to all that the institution has to offer," says Stephanie Snider, Director of BestColleges. "However, as many on our panel pointed out, first-generation students are often ambitious, determined, and brave individuals who are navigating a degree path on their own. Making sure resources and support locations are in place and accessible is an important step in these student’s success."

The publication also addresses how first-generation students can use various resources and support systems to facilitate their transition into college.

To view the complete publication, please visit: /blog/what-is-a-first-generation-college-student//

Meet the Panel

Dr. Michele Scott Taylor, Chief Program Officer, College Now Greater Cleveland

"First-generation students provide perspectives and insight that can produce deeper learning and knowledge. The cross-section of first-gen students offers diverse, new points of view not found in more homogenous groups of students."

Lorna Contreras-Townsend, Advisor and Director of Student Programs, Students Rising Above

"College gives first-generation students the opportunity to create a balanced life, one with more stability, but also one with concrete life skills that will help them find solutions as they face additional challenges along their college-to-career journey."

Constance Carmona, Program Coordinator, Breakthrough Central Texas

"To me, 'first-generation student' means tenacity, triumph, and opportunity. A first-generation student beats the odds and rewrites the ending of an otherwise perpetual cycle many students don’t believe they can get out of."

Benjamin Serrano, Alumni Support Manager, High Jump

"Faced with more questions and few answers from previous generations that did not complete that level of education, first-generation students are tasked with navigating a new academic world. And they do so often alone. Because of all these differences, first-generation students are more resilient and diligent in their approach to education, because to them, the stakes are too high."

Nancy Lee Sànchez, Executive Director, Kaplan Educational Foundation

"The presence of a first-generation student, for example, helps add a different kind of viewpoint that helps classes and study groups consider issues from new perspectives. Just because you are the first person in your family to get an education doesn’t mean that your experiences and family background can’t contribute to your chosen career field, solve problems, manage healthcare resources, make public policy, and more."

Ron Oliver, Director of First-Generation Student Success, Florida Atlantic University

"The unknown is what creates the insecurity and leads to a lack of confidence. First-generation students need mentoring from other first-generation students or professionals that can help them see that they too can be successful."

Mike Woodward, Executive Director, College Track New Orleans

"There is a tremendous benefit in bringing together diverse populations and viewpoints, as well as people with a multitude of lived experiences. These enrich the learning environment for all. For many of us, our neighborhoods and schools are determined based on one’s access, or lack thereof, to resources."

Shelby Brown, First-Generation Student

"As first-generation students, my sisters and I were the first in our family to pursue a college degree. With this came a sense of pride that I was representing an advancement for myself that nobody in my family had yet accomplished."

About BestColleges
BestColleges empowers students to make smarter educational decisions and find schools that best fit their needs through proprietary research, user-friendly guides, and hundreds of unique college rankings. As a trusted education advisor, they also provide a wide array of college planning, financial aid, and career resources to help students realize life goals and overcome educational challenges as they prepare for careers after college. 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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