What It Means To Be A First-Generation College Student

first-gen college studentA first-gen student is a nickname for a first generation college student–someone who grew up in a home where both parents did not attend a four year college, where one parent has an AA only, or where one or both parents attempted some college but did not finish it. If your parents went to community college ONLY, or a technical school, or to a NON four year school in another country, you are still a first-gen. If your parent *did* go to college but they passed away and you lived without them for more than half of your life, then you are a first-gen.

If your parents graduated from *any* four year Bachelors degree-granting college or university, anywhere in the world, then you are *not* a first-gen.

A first-gen is a student who is going to a four year college or university as the first generation in their household/family to do so.

You can be a first-gen if you are the first person from your family to attend college, or if your sibling went and you are going, too.  The important part is that the parents who raised you did *not* attend, or that they did not finish, and you are doing so.  Getting the first four year bachelors degree in your family makes you a first-gen, even if your sibling is getting one, too. Your generation is changing your family history. That makes you a first-gen.

Please read all of the comments below this blog before you write to ask me if you are a first-gen.  🤓

Being a first-gen can be scary, intimidating and confusing because you are like a pioneer, going somewhere with no guide and finding your own way.

This used to be a lot more confusing and lonely, but in recent years there has been much awareness around first-gen students and now campuses are creating programs to support and guide us, and other first-gens are doing all they can to help those who come after them.

Being a first-gen is also really exciting.  You may be the first from your family to go to college, and you may have to figure out the whole college system on your own, but it is SO worth it!  College is fascinating.  You can learn about any subject that interests you.  You can do research, and meet others who share your interests, and work alongside faculty members who have been studying a subject for 10, 20 or 30 years.

You can come to understand and appreciate the history of your favorite subject and learn about all of the brilliant scholars who have forged the path for you.  At the same time, you can learn about all of the most recent developments in your discipline and you can think creatively about ways to push those developments even further.

From a practical standpoint, college prepares you for the workplace and a college degree enables you to get more interesting, higher paying jobs than you can get without a degree.  Over the course of a lifetime, a person with a college degree will earn one million dollars more on average than a person without a college degree!

One of the greatest benefits of a college degree is that you get to choose a career that you are passionate about, develop your skills in an area you find very interesting, and then go to work each day doing something you chose and love.  That’s priceless.

For all of the confusing bits about adjusting to and navigating through college, ask any first-gen graduate and they will tell you that is SO worth it!  College opens your mind, inspires, you sharpens you, and challenges you.  Most importantly, it allows you to achieve your dreams.

Please read all of the comments below before you write to ask me if you are a first-gen.  Please.  After you read this and those, you shouldn’t need to ask me or anyone else. If you must write to me, please greet me, say thank you, and sign your name. Courtesy counts!  🤓

Yay, college!

Susanna

Comments

  1. If my mom went to grad school in the US but not to college am I a first gen college student?

    1. Hi Cristina!

      The standard definition of being a first gen is that your parents didn’t go to college anywhere, so if your mom did grad school (which is awesome!) that means she had to go to college.

      Unless you mean she did a special kind of school? What kind of school was her grad school?

      Best,
      Susanna

  2. I have a mom who went to a 2 year college (no degree, just diploma) overseas, and my father dropped out of college. Does that make me a first-generation applicant since I will be the first child to attend a US 4-year college.

    1. Hello C.A.!

      Yes, if you are the first person who will attend and graduate from a 4 year college or university, then you are a First Gen. Be sure that your applications show this clearly, because colleges want to help First Gens get to and through college. I’m a First Gen, too, so remember, you can do this and it is worth it. Ask questions when you get to campus and never be shy about what you don’t know. The other freshmen have never been to college before either, so you are not alone, and there are always kind people on campus who want to help you understand and succeed.

      Yay, college!
      Susanna

  3. My two older siblings graduated college, my mom had one year at business school but no degree. Dad is only hs grad. Am I first gen?

    1. Author

      Dear Taylor,

      Since your parents did not attend four year university, then yes, you and your siblings are considered First Generation students. Be sure to list your parents’ education levels on your applications, wherever it is requested, and be precise.

      If your mom has one year of business school but no undergraduate Bachelors degree, then it sounds to me like she attended a technical or two year college for just one year, so yes, you would still be a First Gen.

      I am a First Gen, too, and I’m so excited for the exciting educational adventure that you are about to go on! Learn all you can and then do all you can to help make our world a better place.

      Best,
      Susanna

  4. I got a question.If my mom went to a college in a different state(Oregon) and I didn’t know it until 1015 She died after6 months of me being there.She died on October 1st 2015.My brothers never went to college.She had went for her GED when she had died.She was planning to start her own business.I am going no for Creative Writing in English with a Concentration in EEnglishShe never went to college for her college credit,but for her GED first.

    1. Author

      Hello Walter,

      I’m so sorry to hear that you lost your mother. That is such a difficult thing, and it sounds like she was a real inspiration to you.

      I think you are asking if you qualify as a First Gen? Yes, it sounds as if you do. Be sure to tell your colleges honestly about your parents’ levels of educations. I’m assuming your father did not go to college since you do not mention it.

      Also, I was an English major and simply loved it. Do consider double majoring since you are interested in Creative Writing and that can be a tough place to find work. A double major will cost no more money if you are clever and efficient in scheduling your classes, and it will enable you to graduate with two diplomas in the place of one. In this way you can have a steady, stable day job while you find work in creative writing.

      Let me know how things go!
      Stay strong, prioritize your school, and make your Mom proud. Our loved ones are always watching over and protecting us.

      All the best,
      Susanna

  5. My mother graduated with a bachelors degree overseas. However, her degree isn’t worth much over here in the US. She only has 3/4’s of the required credits that a US-equivalent of the degree would require.
    So would I still be considered a first-gen?

    1. Author

      Hi Ankit! Technically you are not a First Gen because she graduated from a college, but in the additional info section you can explain that she cannot work in her profession here in the US, as her international degree is not recognized, if that is in fact the case. If she is working in her area of studies here in the US, then don’t write that paragraph and you wouldn’t be a First Gen. I hope that makes sense! Colleges DO understand that kids whose parents went to school overseas are still new to the US system, so they will certainly take that into consideration. Also, the Common App allows you to put in any university that your parents attended, anywhere in the world, so be sure to do that. Cheers, Susanna

  6. My mom went to a community college but didn’t graduate, will I still be a first generation student?

    1. Author

      Hi Rosanna!

      This question has been asked and answered a few times in the comments, but yes, you are a First Gen because your mom did not graduate.

      Susanna

  7. My mother attended a technical school but left early and my father attempted college, i believe, twice but never completed more than two years and has no degree. Would i be considered a first-generation college student? I understand that my parents attempted higher education but they have degrees earned.

    1. Author

      Hi Nick, this question has been answered before so I am going to edit the blog. Yes, you are a First Gen because they have no degrees. Best, Susanna

  8. Hi. My mom died and my dad left me before I was born; my mom didn’t finish community college during her life and my dad got kicked out of college for using drugs. However, my grandparents have degrees. Am I still a considered a first generation student since they’re technically not my immediate family?

    1. Author

      Hi Kiersten, I am so sorry to hear about your parents, and thank God for wonderful grandparents. Your situation is definitely unique. I think you do qualify as a First Gen and that you should tell your story in your college applications. There is a box at the end of each application for Additional Info and you can put your family story there, since it has likely given you strength and taught you much. You may also choose to use your family story as your main essay, which you could do. Colleges care about you kids, and they do want to know the truth of what you have been through. I hope this helps, and I am excited for your college adventures! All the best, Susanna

  9. Sorry for asking this question if it has already been asked. I couldn’t find the question above. I have been confused for a long time, and I never considered myself as first gen, because my dad went to a community college and obtained a certificate, but now I’m questioning if I’m first gen since I’m the first one who went to a 4 years college and graduate?

    1. Author

      Hi Susan! Yes, since your dad did not do a 4 year degree you are a First Gen. I’ll update the blog to say this. Cheers, Susanna

  10. Hello,
    I am a parent. I attended a 2 year, fully accredited fashion design college over 20yrs. ago, but I didn’t graduate. I want to return to school to take the two classes I need to earn my AA degree, and eventually work towards a Bachelors in the years to come. My daughter is starting the college application process now as a First Gen applicant. If I earn my AA degree, then my Bachelor’s while she’s started college, will that affect her negatively? Do I need to wait unt she graduates from undergrad?

    1. Author

      Hi Rosi!

      No worries here. Go ahead and go back to school. You two might finish your degrees at the same time, or she might finish before you do, but she will still be a First Gen because she is the first kiddo in her family to go to a four year college and live on campus, etc etc. 🙂

      I’m so excited that you are going back!!
      Congratulations!!
      Yay, college!
      Susanna

  11. My husband and I are both college graduates. We adopted our granddaughter, who will graduate high school in 2019. Neither of her physical parents graduated from college. Is our granddaughter considered a first generation?

    1. Author

      Hi Blanche! So sorry for the delay. October is my busiest month of the year. 🙂 I would say that technically your granddaughter is not first gen, but she should certainly tell her story to each college because colleges really want to hear the truth of the background situation of each student. All the best, Susanna

  12. Hi, I am a parent. I graduated from a university in another country with a Law degree.
    I called one of the colleges my daughter is intending to apply and they said that she is first generation, because I have not graduated in an accredited school in the United States. Can you help clarify ??
    Thank you

    Paula

    1. Author

      Hi Paula, In truth you could call each school and ask as it is totally up to each to decide. I would say your daughter is first gen *technically* because your college was in another country, but in truth, she’s really probably not. 🙂 I mean that in the nicest way! She’s lucky to have a strong, educated mom! Best, Susanna

  13. Hi, if my mother has an associate degree, but my dad has not went to college, would I be considered first gen because they both have both completed four years.

    1. Author

      Hello, according to your post, neither of them has completed four years, so I’m not sure of what you mean. Cheers, Susanna

  14. So my mom has custody of me, and all my college apps site my mom and stepmom as my parents. Neither of them have a college degree. However, my dad went to a community college a couple years ago and got his bachelor’s. I don’t live with him, I see him less than once a year, and he isn’t listed on my college applications. Do I count as first-gen?

    1. Author

      Hi Amber! Yes, you are First Gen because the home where you live is not headed by a four-year college grad. 🙂 Cheers, Susanna

  15. One of my parents attended a four-year college but we don’t live with her and my dad didn’t go to college. Would I qualify as a first-gen college student?

    1. Author

      Hi Elizabeth! I think it depends a little on how much you see her. First Gen means that your life experience has been under the guidance of someone who was not able to go to college. Cheers, Susanna

  16. Both of my Parents went to college in another country but the both never completed college. Does that make me a First Gen?

    1. Author

      Hi Abhinav, Could you do me a favor and let me know where in the article this issue is unclear? Many thanks, Susanna

  17. So my brother is in college right now but if he applies for the scholarship can I still apply?

    1. Author

      Hi Serenity! I’m not sure what scholarship you are referring to? Cheers, Susanna

    1. Author

      Hi Serenity, but who is offering this scholarship, and where? You always need to give a person all of the details when you ask a question. 🙂
      Susanna

  18. Hello Susanna,
    I’m the parent of a high school senior and while I did not attend college, her deceased (when she was 9) father was a college graduate. Would my daughter qualify as first generation since she grew up with only me? Is this a situation that needs additional explanations when applying to colleges or for scholarships? Thanks for sharing your knowledge

    1. Author

      Hi Shelly! I think we need to look at the spirit of the law here and not the letter, per se. The concept of being First Gen means that you did not grow up in a home lead by college educated adult(s). So, since her dad passed away when she was 9, then he has not been in the home for half of her life, nor for all of her young adult life, so it would seem to me that she qualifies in the spirit of being First Gen. Cheers, Susanna

  19. How does being a qualifying first generation student help financially? Does it only help in admission process only? Thank you

    1. Author

      Hi Angela! Some schools do offer scholarships for First Gen kids. Cheers, Susanna

  20. I have a question on this, I got my Bachelor’s degree a couple of years ago, as an adult, when my son was a freshman in high school. Would he qualify for a first-generation college student? At a college fair that we went to someone told me that he might.

    1. Author

      Hi Debbi! I think that if we look at the spirit of the law and not the letter, then yes, he would qualify, as he was raised primarily in a home where his parents did not attend a 4 year college. Congrats to you, also! Cheers, Susanna

  21. My mother did not complete high school, but my father graduated with a 4 year degree. However, I lost my father when I was 10. My older sibling also only completed some community college. I have done everything myself in terms of education, especially since I am homeschooled. Am I first generation since I primarily grew up in a houshold with a parent with no degree?

    1. Author

      Hi Cynthia! I think so, yes. The definition means that you did not grow up in a home with a college educated parent, and since you lost your father, which I am sorry to hear about, then you qualify–especially as you did not have his influence during the age when we begin to seriously plan for and apply to college. So, yes, you, like many of us, are First Gen. All the best, Susanna

  22. So my father graduated from a two year college and received his associates and my mom is in school now (for three years now) to obtain here bachelor’s. However, I was the first in my immediate family to obtain my bachelors in chem. I feel like this makes me a first generation student. Am i correct? Also, when the time comes for my mom to receive her bachelors degree, will i still be a first generation student?

    1. Author

      Hi Joel! You will always be a First Gen because that is the way that you grew up. Best, Susanna

  23. My two siblings both went to college and got their bachelors and masters. Would I still be considered a first gen even though they’ve completed college and I’m still in high school?

    1. Author

      Hi! First=gen status has to do with your parents not having gone, so yes, you qualify. Best, Susanna

  24. My granddaughter will graduate in the spring of 2019. Her mother attended a four college but did not graduate and her father got his AA. Both of them as well as the parents were born in the US. Does my granddaughter qualify as a first generation?

    1. Author

      Hello Frances,

      Yes, as the article states, your granddaughter did not grow up in a home where the primary caregiver had a four year degree. Thus, she is a first gen.

      Best,
      Susanna

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