First-Generation College Students

A formal definition of a first-generation college student is a student whose parent(s) did not complete a four-year college or university degree. Some first-generation students come from low-income households. First-generation students are often students of color, children of immigrant parents, or working-class white students.

In many cases, first-generation students face academic, cultural, and financial challenges that other degree-seekers may not. Even if prospective first-generation students find themselves enrolled in a college or university, one in three students in this demographic will quit college within three years. First-generation college students are often highly motivated and eager to excel in a college setting, but you may also encounter the following challenges:

First-generation students may experience a number of hurdles, both internal and external, that make pursuing and completing a college degree especially challenging. Particular challenges may include:

  • Navigating the process of applying to school, gathering essential application materials, studying for standardized tests (e.g., ACT or SAT), and applying for financial aid
  • High cost of college tuition
  • Feeling out of place, uncomfortable, or like you do not have the skill set to be in college (this is typically understood as “Imposter Syndrome”)
  • Guilt from leaving home or being the first to attend college

It is important to understand that you are not alone. There are many other first-generation college students who are feeling the same way you might be. This TEDx video offers a personal experience that you may relate to; What I have learned as a first-generation college student | Lyric Swinton | TEDxUofSC.

Studies have found that first-generation college students are less likely to seek out help, including on-campus resources. If you are struggling emotionally, academically, and/or financially, there are options available to you. Also consider, you do not need to be in a crisis to access resources. Any and all of the following resources can be helpful wherever you are in your journey!


Within VCU

Outside VCU