For those of us in higher education, access to college feels second nature. We are intimately acquainted with the ins and outs of the system. It can be challenging for us to step outside of our context enough to realize how opaque the process of applying for, matriculating within, studying for, and graduating from college can be.
Each step along the way is replete with protocols and decisions. These are stressful for any student and their family. Those headaches are amplified when the student is the first person in their family to attend college.
Understanding the challenges
First-generation college students have lower overall graduation rate and lower academic attainment than their peers with a parent who has completed a post-secondary degree. In spite of the additional obstacles they can face, first generation college students are less likely to utilize support services that could provide valuable resources than continuing generation students. The differences persist after graduation as well. Pew research has found “college graduates without a college-educated parent have lower incomes and less wealth, on average, than those with a parent who has a bachelor’s or higher degree.”
Secondary schools have begun to attune to the needs of first-generation college students. They play a foundation role in bridging these gaps, laying the groundwork for a student’s success before they ever set foot on your campus. High school guidance counselors work with students and parents to explore career paths, complete the FAFSA, gather necessary materials, and begin their application process.
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