When I first set foot on the campus of the University of Colorado at Boulder as an undergraduate, I had no idea what I was doing. My parents had not gone to college. Three of my grandparents had not even graduated from high school. No one in my extended family had advised me about choosing or preparing for college, let alone could they help me in navigating a university once I got there. I quickly realized that I had to figure out higher education on my own, and fast.

Nationwide, one out of every three first-year students start their first semester of college under similar circumstances, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That is also true at the institution I lead, The College of Saint Rose, in New York, where more than 30 percent of the students in our most recent first-year class are the first in their families to go to college.

Related content: Are you doing all you can to support first-generation college students?

While every personal situation is unique, students’ feelings and experiences are not—especially during the first year on campus. Almost all first-year students will feel overwhelmed at some point during the transition to college, and that emotion is magnified even more for first-generation college students who have little or no understanding of what is expected of them and what campus life will be like.

As educators, it is our responsibility to help first-generation students tackle as many of the educational, financial, social, and personal challenges that we can. Our support is vital to their success.

About the Author:

Dr. Carolyn J. Stefanco is president of The College of Saint Rose in Albany, New York. A first-generation college student herself, Dr. Stefanco has dedicated her entire professional career to ensuring that women and all students—regardless of their economic background—have equal access to higher education opportunities.