First-Generation College Students

Entering college from a working-class background can be extremely difficult.  Students often arrive with little knowledge about what to expect, how to adjust, or who to contact with questions. This site offers resources, suggestions, and personal accounts of other students in your position.

Want to meet other First-Gen Students? Check out our First Generation College Student Summit!

Common Feelings – Expressed by First-Generation Students


Confusion – feeling lost when it comes to applications, graduation, job searching, or graduate school.

Responsibility – having to help contribute significantly to tuition and living costs.

Excitement and Nervousness – thrilled but also frightened about being away from home or living independently.

Pride – possessing an overwhelming sense of pride about being the first in the family to attend and complete college.

Guilt – wondering if it is fair to be attending college while parents struggle financially at home.

Embarrassment – experiencing shame over socioeconomic status or being different from peers.

Recommendations – Ensuring a Positive Experience!


For Students:

Get support – become involved on campus by join groups or organizations that are of interest to you. 

Communicate your experiences – sharing your thoughts and feelings with peers can help your long-term transition to college life.

Utilize resources – take advantage of mentoring programs and offices/programs designed to assist you.

Maintain a balance – remember that the diligence, hard work, and resourcefulness that got you in to college will also help keep you there.

For Family Members:

Learn what to expect from the college process – attend orientations, meet with advisers, and become familiar with campus resources.

Be patient – this is a learning process, and it is important to remember to take everything in stride.

For Guidance Counselors

Reach out early – identify first-generation college students as soon as possible, helping them choose classes in high school that will help prepare them for college and guiding them through the process of searching for and selecting colleges.

Involve the family – perhaps explaining the basics of college or placing a tangible value on higher education.

Assist with financial aid and applications – students from families with low incomes may qualify for fee waivers, and are often the targets of financing scams.

Connect – Students Speak Out!


Students revealing how much they pay for college

“Class Divide in Internships” by Ruzielle Ganuelas

“A Story of Crossing the Tracks” by Celeste Harmer

“Homeless to College” by Jessica Boyle

“The Anger of a First-Generation College Student” by Emily Loftis

“Nevada’s First Generation”  – A 34 minute documentary about the experiences of first-generation college students

“Who We Are” – A short profile video featuring interviews with four UC Berkeley students

Learn More – Educate Yourself about the Reality of Classism on Campus, and Tap into the Resources Available


The First Generation Student Experience: Implications for Campus Practice, and Strategies for Improving Persistence and Success by Jeff Davis

Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreams by Alfred Lubrano

A Hope in the Unseen: An American Odyssey from the Inner City to the Ivy League by Ron Suskind

The Interactive Relationship Between Class Identity and the College Experience: The Case of Lower Income Students by Elizabeth Aries and Maynard Seider

First-Generation College Experience by Amy Baldwin

First in the Family: Your High School Years: Advice About College from First Generation Students by Kathleen Cushman

The Little College Handbook: A First Generation’s Guide to Getting In and Staying In by Melissa Mellott, M.Ed.

Make a Difference – How Class Action Can Help You Succeed!


Start a support group on your campus for first-generation college students. Stimulate dialogue and come up with solutions for the challenges that first-generation students commonly face.

Bring a Class Action workshop to your school! Help train an organization or group on campus and further the education of classism.

Check out this webpage, a searchable database through I’m First. The database includes college access programs across the country that are working to promote a college-bound culture among first-generation and traditionally under-served student populations. If you find any programs you like, try to get a similar one started in your community!

Get engaged by joining the dialogue and increase education by sharing your opinions and experiences through taking this survey to help us learn more about what we can do for you and other first generation college students!