Mental Health, Parenting

The Journey Of A First Generation College Student

first gen image

Imagine being clear on the path you want to take but unsure of what direction to go and unsure of what is needed on this journey. Imagine picking up a map to help you navigate this new journey but easily getting overwhelmed with the multiple tasks and possibilities. When you reach out for support from your loved ones, you realize their support may be limited as this is a new journey for them too. When there is lack of support and guidance, the initial feeling of excitement and achievement can quickly be replaced with Anxiety and stress.


First generation college students are of all ages, gender, socio-economic and diverse cultural backgrounds. Being the first in their family to embark on this journey is a great accomplishment. In the United States there are many great resources that can provide guidance to first generation students such as McNair, summer bridge, EOP and some colleges may have additional programs to support students through the process like designated dormitory just for first generation students. Finding a network that can provide guidance through this process is crucial for student’s success. In addition to facing the challenges of learning a new process, most first generational students have many family obligations they must juggle. For some it is sharing the family’s financial responsibilities, taking on multiple roles such as translator, financial advisor, resource specialist, and or caretaker for younger siblings etc. Juggling these extra responsibilities can cause the student to feel isolated from their peers and can create challenges in staying present in their college experiences.

Young adulthood is a time to create one’s own path and execute the impeding demands of adulthood. These new skills can slowly be mastered in an environment that fosters the important parts of early adulthood development. When the young adult can express their independence paired with support, it builds confidence and facilitates the ability to create a balance between the new phase of life and the demands of college. Support can be offered in many different ways depending on what the needs are of the young adult. For some, it may be helping to problem solved through a situation. Maybe it is providing encouragement on the decisions they are making. For others it may be providing re-assurance that although college is expensive financial aid is available and they can overcome obstacles to get to their goals. It is important to take a step back and analyze what the needs are and recognize that the needs can rapidly be changing.

For some students the process of going to college can start off with pointers, good advice, preparation and even college prep courses of what to expect. These are the many privileges that first generational college students do not always get.
This new experience can bring upon many conflicting feelings such as excitement and at the same time feeling overwhelmed. These feelings paired with limited support creates greater obstacles for the student. It can sometimes create a gap and feelings of isolation between both the caretaker and the student. While not all feelings are negative there are multiple feelings of satisfaction, perseverance and accomplishment. At the beginning of the journey there can be many questions and doubts causing some stress. Some common questions may be “Will I be able to do this? How can I afford college? And how will I be able to take on these new college demands with the added responsibility I have to my family”. These doubts, un-answered questions and feelings of uncertainty can create fear and Anxiety but can be overcome with the appropriate tools and support. For most students that fear and or Anxiety becomes manageable as the student gets accustomed to registering for classes, having a clear picture of what classes to take and where to get the materials needed. Visiting campus resources like academic advising, counseling, financial aid, and tutoring services are great program to support student’s success.

How to support a first generation college student?

  1. Do your own research. Do not rely on the student to provide you information as you go. Be proactive and find answers to your questions? There are many workshop, and conferences just for parents.
  2. Change your mind frame. Just because you did not go or complete college does not mean you cannot help. Your child needs your support through this process. Listen to your child and try to identify their needs first before offering advice. Figure out the support they need to overcome the obstacle they are facing?
  3. Talk to your child about financial options. This is a process that should be openly discussed. Do they have a college fund? What loans, scholarships and financial aid is available? Compare the cost of tuition across different options such as private, UC, Cal State, community college or trade school?
  4. Develop multiple plans and discuss different scenarios. Does your child want to commute to school? Do they want to go out of state? Would they prefer a large or small college?
  1. Visit several college campuses and get a feel for what is the college culture? It may be different at every university. Things to consider are what are some options for student involvement? What are some ways my child will be socially supported (sports, organizations, Greek life)? Will there be diversity and opportunity for well- rounded experiences? Safety? Housing? Campus resources?

DISCLAIMER: ALL CONTENT, PHOTOS AND MATERIALS ON THIS WEBSITE ARE FOR GENERAL INFORMATION ONLY AND PROPERTY OF MOVING FORWARD COUNSELING.  INFORMATION ON THIS WEBSITE SHOULD NOT BE A SUBSTITUTE FOR PROFESSIONAL TREATMENT AND SHOULD NOT BE UTILIZED TO DIAGNOSE SELF OR OTHERS OR FOR TREATMENT PURPOSE. TALK TO YOUR HEALTH PROVIDER IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS.  

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