First Generation College Student Challenges
Some people have waited all their lives for this. They graduated from high school or earned their GED, and now they want to attend college. While some families have a history of going to the same school or at least attending college, not everyone has had that luxury.
Being the first person in your family to attend college or university is a great accomplishment, but it could also be challenging to navigate alone.
In a new study, CollegeFinance.com surveyed more than 1,000 former first generation college students to understand their motivations for enrolling, how their experiences differed from one another, and how they paid for their education. Some of their findings were interesting.
According to the study, 1 in 3 students who enroll in postsecondary education are first-generation college students. More than 3 in 4 of those said they enrolled to be better qualified for jobs, and 63% said they did it to ensure they had a better future. While more than 3 in 5 people signed up to earn more money.
Continuing-generation students, people whose parents attended college, have similar beliefs to those who are first-generation students. But, almost half (45.4%) of continuing-generation students felt they had to prove themselves, while only 38% of first-generation students felt the same.
More than half (52.2%) of first generation college students choose their school because of its distance from their home – 44.4% of continuing-generation students did the same. The cost of the school’s tuition was the second-most important consideration when deciding which school to attend, followed by major availability and financial aid availability.
Students of all backgrounds struggle with college, but how are first-generation academics handling this transition? The study revealed that 87% of first-generation students struggled with academic challenges, and 58% had social difficulties. But dropping out seemed to be the last option for these students.
Only 12.5% of first generation college students quit college. More than 1 in 4 people considered dropping out, but they finished their degree regardless. Additionally, 59% of first-generation college students said they never considered quitting. For those who considered ending their college journey, almost half (48%) said finances were the primary reason.
The most common struggles were adjusting to campus life, financial challenges, and fitting in on campus. Even with stresses associated with college, 70% of first-generation students and 62% of continuing-generation students were still satisfied with their decision to enroll.
Paying for College
Continuing-generation students were more likely to obtain financial help through scholarships (58.9%) or from their family (67.6%), compared to first-generation students – 52.8% and 49.2%, respectively. First-generation students (67%) were slightly more likely to use student loans to pay for college than continuing-generation students (63.5%).
While the amount of scholarship money earned and student loan debt accrued were pretty similar between the two types of students analyzed, the most significant differences appeared when family money was assessed. First-generation college students were nearly nine percentage points more likely to receive $24,999 or less in help from their family, but 26.6% of continuing-generation students were given at least $25,000 to go to school, compared to just 18% of first-generation students.
More than 1 in 4 first-generation college students received financial aid from their schools.
College Life vs. Home Life
Adjusting to college life can be tricky, but how did first-generation college students balance their schooling and home life? Almost half (43%) felt they lived a double life, keeping school and family separate. The top pressures they felt while in school were performing well academically, proving their capability to themselves, and helping to support their family.
More than 1 in 5 first-generation college students said they did not have family support while in college. Approximately 46% said they worked a full-time or part-time job to help support their family while enrolled in school.
But with these students choosing to be the first to further their education, more than 1 in 3 people revealed that college is no longer an unfamiliar concept for their families. Additionally, 34% reported earning more money than any other family member after college.
College life can be difficult, especially if you are the first in your family to attend. But those who went through it say that if you stay organized, go to class, and are proactive about financial assistance, anyone can thrive in college.