Top 3 Tips for First-Generation College Students

Here’s some good advice from a University of Rochester student for fellow First-Generation students!

By Sharifa Sharfeldden

The University of Rochester defines a first-generation student as a college-bound individual whose parents/guardians have not earned a bachelor’s degree.

Are you a first-generation student headed to college? You may feel alone, but know that you have tons of resources and support at the University of Rochester. In addition to that, here are three tips to help you be successful.

1. Talk to each other.

I’m a first-generation student. When I was going through the college search process, I had a couple friends who are also first-generation students. During our commute home, we discussed where we were in our college process and what problems we were facing. It was through these conversations that I learned about the IDOC, a financial aid component that many private institutions require students to fill out. As a first-generation student, it can be difficult to get all the help you need from counselors, so it is very important that you share information with friends and be there for each other.

2. Do not be intimidated by prestigious institutions.

First-generation students tend to shy away from private colleges for various reasons. The two most prominent reasons are financial and social. However, these issues should not prevent students from attending their dream colleges. Prestigious institutions want to diversify their student population, so there are programs and opportunities for tuition assistance, support groups, and organizations to help encourage first-generation students to apply and be successful once enrolled.

In addition, many schools offer visit programs (the University of Rochester offers the Multicultural Visitation Program) where first-generation students, students from underrepresented minority groups, and/or low-income students can visit the school at minimal to no cost and meet students with a shared experience. Some schools also offer travel vouchers for campus visits (I used a voucher and it helped me in my decision to attend the University of Rochester).

Aside from financial worries, first-generation students are also concerned about not fitting in with the student body of the university. I was also worried about this when I was deciding what college to commit to. To get a feel for the social climate of a college, the best thing you can do is visit campus. During a college visit, you get a clear idea of what your life would be like on that campus and if you feel welcomed and comfortable.

If you cannot visit, another option is to check out the college’s YouTube channel to watch videos about the campus and hear from students and alumni. Rochester also has a virtual tour if you can’t physically make it to campus. Whether you decide to attend a public or private institution, the most important thing to keep in mind is that these schools want you to apply and you should not deprive yourself of the education you deserve.

3. Keep your family in the loop.

It is common for the parents or family members of first-generation students to know little to nothing about the college process. As a result, your family may give you more autonomy in the college decision process because they don’t feel qualified to help. But they can be more helpful than either of you realize.

Parents know you better than you know yourself in many ways. When you’re thinking about going to a college as far northeast as Maine because you think campus snowball fights will be a blast (they are), your parents remember how much you complained about having to put on a big puffy coat as a kid. Or, when you’re thinking about basking in the Californian sun-rays, your parents remember all the times you whined about sweating in the hot weather growing up.

While your parents may not know the logistics of the college process, they help you understand what you actually want. The process is not about you being a good fit for the college—it’s all about whether the college is a good fit for you. When you’re on a college tour or attending an information session, it’s important that you bring your parents with you. Parents pay attention and understand things differently than you do. Parents have different concerns and come up with questions that you might not think of because their main focus is not only your education but your safety and happiness.

On the flip side, if your parents are a bit stricter, it’s important that you help them understand the things that actually matter when it comes to picking your home for the next four years. Sometimes parents get too swept up by name-brand schools, and while those schools may provide an excellent education, students should not feel restricted to only those schools. The only way to help your parents understand your point of view is if you take them on the journey with you instead of leaving them in the dark.

As you apply to Rochester or any other school, I wish you the best of luck!

By Jodyi Wren
Jodyi Wren Executive Director & Assistant Dean