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7 Ways in which Universities can help First-Generation College Students Achieve Success

March 26, 2023, by: Yvette Gonzalez

Are you a first-generation college student? If you don't know what that means, then you may not be alone. But it's an important distinction to understand. Today I'm going to explain in detail exactly what it means to be a first-generation college student and the many ways in which universities can help first-generation students achieve success.

First-generation college students are a significant portion of the college-aged population; according to the U.S. Department of Education, over one-third of students between 15-17years of age are in this category. These students typically come from families in which neither parent has achieved a bachelor’s degree. After extensive research, I’ve listed the top 7 ways in which Universities can assist first-generation college students.

1. Scholarships: Scholarships are a form of financial aid that is provided to students by their university. Scholarships are usually awarded based on merit or need and can be used to pay tuition, fees, room, and board, books, supplies and transportation. Some scholarships pay for part or all the cost of a degree program.

Scholarships are not free money, but rather a way for universities to help students afford the costs associated with attending college. The best scholarship search engines will allow you to filter your results by criteria such as location, ethnicity, and gender. If you're looking for scholarships that target groups or fields at your school, check out

Universities can help by ensuring that students are made aware of scholarship opportunities that may fit their individual academic and career needs. This can be done through advertising these programs, providing support for applications, and raising awareness at student orientations. Additionally, university career services can provide students with advice on finding and applying for these scholarships. This way, students can take advantage of the financial support available in the form of merit-based scholarships and other awards.

There are also several first-in-family scholarship opportunities such as the Walmart First-Generation scholarship program. Organizations like College Greenlight, Strive for college, FirstGEN Fellows, and Student Success Agency can help first-gen students better understand the financial aid process, provide guidance on budgeting and connecting them with scholarship and grant opportunities. They can connect first-gen students with mentors and offer support in navigating unfamiliar college systems.

2. Mentorship Programs: The need for mentorship programs in college is growing. More students are seeking advice from experienced alumni, and more colleges are offering mentorship programs that allow students to meet with someone who has overcome difficult obstacles and succeeded in a field of interest.

Mentorships help students form new relationships and make connections with people who can provide them with information, help them navigate the job market, guide them through internships, or serve as role models for their careers. Mentorships also give students an opportunity to learn how to be more confident around others who have similar experiences.

3. Pre-Orientation Programs: Pre-orientation programs are available to first-generation college students who are not familiar with the campus or its resources and may be unsure of how to navigate their way around. Pre-orientation programs can help get students on the right track for success.

First-generation college students are more likely than others to suffer from academic anxiety and depression, which can be compounded by the stress of making a new start in college. Pre-orientation programs can help ease these pressures by providing support and guidance through the transition from high school to college.

4. Offer mental health counseling: First-generation students may have difficulty adjusting to a new environment, which can lead to mental health issues like anxiety and depression. Financial difficulty can further increase stress, making it harder to cope. Often, the stigma, lack of representation and extreme academic pressure can prevent them from accessing adequate mental health support. It is important to ensure first-generation students have resources and support available to help them adjust and manage any mental health challenges. Teaching students how to recognize signs of mental issues and how to address their own mental health could help prevent them from developing more serious conditions. Early intervention is key in improving the mental health of our communities.

Universities can support students by offering on-campus counseling centers with licensed therapists, peer support groups, and workshops. Universities can also help students by providing wellness services like nutrition counseling, fitness classes, and substance-related treatment. These programs help students attend their holistic health, such as providing them with peer counseling and education workshops. Students can learn how to improve personal habits, gain knowledge about nutrition, and build healthier relationships. Through these services, college students can become more conscious of their wellbeing and mental health.

5. Building Community and belonging: Universities need to provide more support for first-generation students, helping them build connection networks and find resources. By creating tailored outreach, mentorship, and support systems, we can offer guidance and help students achieve success on campus. Everyone should have an equal opportunity to fulfill their potential.

Universities can help foster a bond among their students by providing to the student’s basic needs, ranging from accessibility to high-speed internet, access to books, laptops. Another way of including students is partnering with student leaders and utilizing peer mentors as they are both connected with the student body. Student leaders can be essential in spreading important information on campus. They can distribute announcements and keep the whole student body informed. A well-dispersed network of student leaders can be instrumental in ensuring everyone is up to date with the latest information that affects students.

6. Educate first-generation parents about college experience: Universities must involve family members in the schools to create a sense of belonging and strong connection. Invite the parents to events, have them help with tasks, and encourage them to stay informed about the curriculum, activities, and programs available. Developing meaningful relationships with family members helps first-generation college students thrive in a secure, supportive environment.

7. Extend Career preparation opportunities: Universities can offer guidance on everything from career options to what questions to ask to build your network. With this strategy, students will gain mentorship, referrals, job, and internship leads.

First-generation students may feel overwhelmed trying to navigate the available resources or becoming socially isolated if they struggle financially. Additionally, imposter syndrome can cause these students to feel inadequate or like an outsider. With the correct support from the Universities and the communities within, these feelings can be overcome, and students can gain a sense of belonging in the college community.

7 Ways in which Universities can help First-Generation College Students Achieve Success © 2023 by Yvette Gonzalez is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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