Common Struggles of First-Generation Students

first generation student struggling with schoolwork
students laughing

Common Struggles of First-Generation Students

Many first-generation college students have a hard time in their first year at school. Often, these individuals feel lost or unprepared for the university experience. Notably, the dropout rate for low-income first-gen students is quadruple compared to continuing-generation students. A staggering 89% don’t receive their college degree.

Students who drop out cite financial issues and lack of support as reasons why they left. Indeed, while many of us know just how expensive college can be, first-generation students tend to underestimate the bill.

Many of us have relied on our parents, siblings, and grandparents to tell us what to expect in college. If someone in your family attended, you might have heard stories about their experiences. You’ll know about the application process, average tuition, and, ideally, the resources available to you. For example, many families don’t know about the grants and scholarships they can apply for. Notably, around 23% of students who didn’t apply for aid said it was because they simply didn’t know how to.

You may not realize how much having parents who went to college helps. In the end, first-generation college students face unique challenges. Keep reading below to learn about the top three and how students can prepare.

Top 3 Reasons Why First-Generation Students Struggle

Undoubtedly, finances play a huge role in dropout rates. Around 27% of first-generation students come from families who make less than $20,000 annually. However, the problems go deeper than money.

Grants and resources are available for students who can’t afford tuition but don’t want to take out loans. The issue lies in accessibility. Most families aren’t aware of their options or how to research them. For example, students who use FAFSA and enroll in community college for their first two years can save up to and above $30,000.

Additionally, grants are available for students of specific backgrounds and who choose particular majors. Two of the more common scholarships include athletic and STEM.

Yet many families remain unaware of or don’t apply for these funds. Sometimes, the process is enough to push students away from trying. Notably, there is a great privilege in knowing how to write a scholarship application essay.

Thus, below are three challenges students face beyond financial issues.

Unclear Expectations

First-generation college students may have unclear expectations from the start. However, these expectations aren’t easily defined. Some students might think going back to school is impossible. They may be afraid of enrolling or their first test. Sometimes, this anxiety can cause a self-fulfilling prophecy. In other words, they think they’ll fail, so they do.

On the other hand, some students may think college will be easy and wonderful. They’ll expect it to be high school again. Then, they don’t develop study skills and find themselves lost at exam time.

Similar misconceptions can be found regarding finances. Students anticipate impossibly high tuition and never apply in the first place. Or, they don’t think they need financial aid and don’t apply. Ultimately, they end up with higher student loans than the average person.

Basically, not knowing what to expect can cause various problems for first-generation students.

First-Generation Students Have a Limited Support System

Not having anyone on your side can be discouraging for any student. Student mental health has been a major concern for the last several years. Indeed, it’s more than getting a bad grade or being overwhelmed by homework. The average student has additional responsibilities and stresses on top of schoolwork. Additionally, college is simply hard for many people.

First-time college students come from a household that doesn’t understand the stresses of school. They may not know why it’s so stressful. Additionally, families may have different expectations for students and don’t understand the time commitment of earning a degree. As a result, they may not accept college as a reason why someone couldn’t attend an event or work as many hours.

This response from family can make it difficult to dedicate enough time to studying or even stay in college. College students need support to succeed. Without it, they can feel isolated and unsure of themselves and their goals.

Less Knowledge of Resources & Scams

Furthermore, students don’t know where to turn when times get tough without a solid support system. We previously mentioned financial resources like scholarships. However, it goes further than that. Consider the resources many colleges offer as a part of tuition: mental and physical health, tutoring, athletic, social, and more.

Unfortunately, these resources are often not posted front and center. Instead, you need to know about most of them to look for them. Students may be at a loss without the support to seek them out.

Similarly, there are a handful of scams out there. Consider some of the fake schools that have emerged over the past decades. Unaccredited colleges take the money and provide useless degrees in return. Ultimately, students are left with heaps of debt and nothing to show. Thankfully, students are becoming more aware of the dangers of unaccredited schools, but many have fallen victim.

instructor helping student

How First-Generation Students Can Prepare

There are many adjustments colleges need to make to ensure first-generation college students succeed. For example, having easily accessible resources and a strong orientation are a great start. Every university should make sure their students know what they get as a part of tuition. Additionally, staff must be able to help students with financial aid and other needed resources.

On the other hand, all prospective students should do some research before enrolling in any school. Indeed, college costs a lot of time and money. Make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into.

Visit Campus Before Enrolling

One great way to see what college is like is to visit the campus before enrolling and during the school year. You’ll get an idea of the culture and your possible peers. Additionally, you’ll see how busy the campus gets and what the popular spots are. This visit will provide great context for what college is like day-to-day.

Generally, viewing the school in full swing lets you know if you’ll fit in.

Ask Around

Even if your direct family members haven’t attended college, you may still have access to someone who has. Ask a trusted teacher, your friend or their family, or more distant relatives.

You should consider asking what they liked and disliked, if they thought it was worth it, how they got their funding, and similar questions. Even if they don’t have all the information, talking to someone is a great start. They may introduce you to concepts like work-study programs, on-campus groups, and even your possible major.

Don’t Sell Yourself Short

Notably, many first-generation college students don’t apply to big-name colleges. They may be afraid they won’t get in or that they don’t belong. Yet, many larger colleges offer scholarships and grants to first-gen students.

If you got good grades or excelled in your desired field, you should consider applying to your dream schools.

Do a Test Run

Indeed, college is a big commitment. But there are ways to test the waters before you get left with a big bill. Community colleges are a great way to get your first two years of classes out of the way for a lot less money. Additionally, some of these schools even offer four-year programs. Students can save tens of thousands of dollars at community colleges with or without financial aid.

Alternatively, consider doing a certificate or vocational program first. These courses provide you with a valuable certification within a few weeks. Thus, even if you realize college isn’t right for you, it wasn’t all for nothing.

Better yet, some accredited colleges even allow you to turn that certification into college credits. For example, if you take a paralegal diploma program, you’ll earn credits for a two-year or four-year degree.

Final Thoughts

It’s easy to get overwhelmed as a college student already. First-generation students have extra challenges to overcome. However, there are ways to get over the bump and earn your degree. Don’t get discouraged if it takes you longer than your peers to settle in. Use the resources available to you and know that you’re not alone.

Lakewood University is an accredited university that provides online and affordable programs. In addition to being online, all of the courses offered are asynchronous.

In other words, you get to choose your own work schedule. You don’t need to worry about showing up late to class or taking off work to do your final exams. Want to learn more? Reach out to one of our admissions representatives today to find a program that works for you.