5 Things Every First-Generation College Student Needs to Know

A first-generation college student in cap and gown holds up her diploma
March 20, 2024 5 min read Liaison

Recognizing and owning your first-generation status not only fosters a sense of pride but also empowers you to navigate college with confidence.

Key Takeaways

Many colleges have an array of services available to help first-generation students succeed.

Building a robust support network is crucial for first-generation college students.

As a first-generation college student, you bring valuable perspectives to the academic community.

Student organizations offer a platform for personal growth, leadership development, and networking.

Developing new time-management and study skills can significantly reduce stress and improve your academic performance.


As a first-generation college student, navigating the complexities of higher education can feel like a difficult task. It doesn’t need to be. This article provides practical advice, academic insights, and insider tips to help bridge the knowledge gap that often exists for students without a family history of college attendance.

Remember, being a first-generation college student means you're setting a path not just for yourself, but for future generations. Embrace this life-changing experience with confidence and curiosity — you have what it takes to succeed! Here are five strategies to help you achieve your goal.

Use Available Resources

Attending college as a first-generation student can present unique challenges, but utilizing your available resources is a powerful step toward success. Taking advantage of support resources, such as tutoring centers, student affairs, and career services, is crucial. They can help you adjust to college-level coursework and offer guidance on class selection to ensure you're on the right path toward your degree.

It's also vital to understand your financial aid package thoroughly. Financial aid offices are there to help clarify the details of scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study options available to you. They can assist in planning your budget and exploring additional funding opportunities to make your education more affordable.

Your school’s library and its staff can also provide research assistance, access to academic journals, and study spaces designed to suit a variety of learning styles. Furthermore, many colleges have centers dedicated to student success that offer workshops on time management, study strategies, and stress management — skills essential for academic and personal growth.

By proactively seeking out these resources, you set a foundation for academic achievement and personal development. Remember, these supports are in place because your success matters to the college community. Engaging with them early and often can make a significant difference in your college experience.

Build a Support Network

Building a robust support network is crucial for first-generation college students. This network can be your lifeline through the ups and downs of college life. It starts with mentorship programs, which can connect you with individuals who have successfully navigated the complexities of college. These mentors can provide personalized advice, share their experiences, and introduce you to valuable resources and opportunities on campus. They understand the unique scenarios you face and can guide you in making informed decisions that fuel academic success and career development.

Getting involved in student organizations is an equally important aspect of your student life. These groups not only allow you to pursue your interests and passions but also help you build lasting friendships. Being part of a community of peers who share similar backgrounds or academic interests can significantly enhance your experience.

These organizations offer a platform for personal growth, leadership development, academic advising, and networking for undergraduate students. They can also provide a sense of belonging, which is vital for maintaining your mental and emotional well-being. The networks you develop can offer support, guidance, and opportunities for personal and professional growth, making your college and campus life more enriching and fulfilling.

Family celebrates the success of first generation graduate

Source: Pexels

Embrace Your Identity

Embracing your identity as a first-generation college student is also important. This unique aspect of who you are brings valuable perspectives to the academic community. Recognizing and owning your first-generation status not only fosters a sense of pride but also empowers you to navigate college with confidence. It's a testament to your resilience and determination, qualities that will serve you well throughout your academic career and beyond.

Colleges often have cultural centers and diversity offices that provide spaces for students from various backgrounds to come together. These resources are designed to support you in finding a community that understands your experiences. They offer programs, workshops, and events that celebrate diversity and inclusion, providing a richer, more supportive college experience.

Moreover, these centers can be a source of additional academic and emotional support, connecting you with resources tailored to your needs. They understand the unique challenges faced by first-generation students and strive to create an environment where you can thrive. By engaging with these resources, you not only enrich your own college experience but also contribute to the vibrancy and diversity of the campus.

Regardless of your background, taking advantage of cultural resources can profoundly impact your college experience, providing a foundation of support, community, and personal growth.

Develop Time Management and Study Skills

Developing strong time management and study skills is essential for success in college, especially for first-generation college students who might be navigating the academic environment without a familial roadmap. Many colleges often offer workshops focused on these critical skills, which can teach you how to effectively organize your time, prioritize tasks, and develop study techniques that work best for you. Engaging in these workshops can provide you with the tools needed to balance academic responsibilities with personal commitments efficiently.

Setting realistic goals is another key component of your first-generation college student experience. By breaking down larger tasks into smaller, manageable steps, you can avoid feeling overwhelmed and maintain a clear focus on what needs to be accomplished. This approach not only helps in managing your academic workload but also in setting personal and career-related goals. It's important to recognize that mastering time management and study skills is a process that requires patience and persistence.

Adapting these skills to your routine can significantly reduce stress and improve your academic performance. In addition, these lifelong skills will benefit you beyond college, in your professional and personal life. By investing time in developing these competencies, you're setting yourself up for success and ensuring that you can navigate the demands of college life with confidence and resilience.

Ask for Help

Knowing it's okay to ask for help can significantly improve your college experience. Recognizing when you need support and being proactive in seeking it out is not a sign of weakness, but rather a strength. It demonstrates self-awareness and a commitment to your personal and academic growth.

For example, counseling services play a crucial role in providing emotional and psychological support. Transitioning to college can be a challenging period for a first-generation college student, filled with new experiences and pressures. These services offer a confidential space to discuss any issues you may be facing, whether they're related to stress, anxiety, homesickness, or any other concerns. Utilizing these services can help you manage your mental health, ensuring you're in the best possible state to succeed academically.

Remember, asking for help is a wise and courageous step. It means you're taking control of your situation and making use of the resources at your disposal to overcome challenges. By taking this approach, you can navigate the complexities of college more effectively, ensuring a more positive and productive academic experience.


Navigating the world of higher education as a first-generation student comes with its unique set of challenges and opportunities. By understanding and utilizing campus resources, researching scholarships, building a strong support network, honing time management and study skills, and recognizing the importance of asking for help, you can pave a path to earning a college degree. These strategies are not just about overcoming obstacles but also about leveraging your unique perspective and strengths to enrich your college experience.

Remember, you are not alone in this adventure. By proceeding with openness and resilience, you'll not only succeed in college but also set a strong foundation for your future endeavors.


A "first-gen" student refers to an individual who is the first person in his or her family to attend college after high school.

Yes! According to the Center for First-Generation Student Success, 54% of all undergraduates in the United States have parents who did not earn a bachelor's degree.

Generally speaking, first-generation students may be more likely to earn degrees in fields with strong employment prospects.

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