First-generation college students now make up nearly one-third of today’s college-going population. These students face significant challenges when navigating the college environment for the first time. Since first-generation college students may not have a family member to rely on for guidance, colleges and universities need to be more proactive in addressing questions, connecting students with resources, and providing just-in-time and long-term support.
Navigating an unfamiliar setting
As soon as they start their college search, many first-generation students enter an unfamiliar setting and often feel uncertain about what to do. Once accepted, they receive an influx of communication, much of it is filled with new and unfamiliar language. In addition to information on student programming, campus involvement, and campus facilities, students also receive their financial aid information and other important documents.
It can be hard for first-generation college students to differentiate between what they need to address immediately, and what may be nice to know a year from now. This decentralized communication creates an additional barrier to first-generation college students struggling to understand the information they need for a successful transition to college life.
Georgetown eases the transition with the Thrive Guide
To help first-generation college students sort through the flurry of communication they receive and the to-do list they must accomplish, Georgetown University developed a Thrive Guide to prepare students before they arrive on campus. It is essentially CliffsNotes for all the other university communication the students receive.
Tailored to first-generation college students, the Thrive Guide addresses topics and questions that a student’s parents might not be able to help with if they did not go to college. While resources like this could certainly serve a large number of students, what differentiates this effort from a traditional checklist or “getting started” document is that the authors consulted first-generation college students in developing the guide, asking them what they wish they’d known before arriving on campus.
Their involvement surfaced many topics that might not make it into a more general to-do list, but are crucial for a smooth and low-stress transition, such as packing and getting books on a budget, a reasonable number of credits to take in your first semester, and how to access a financial aid refund.
Create an easy-to-use resource for first-generation students
In addition to topics specific to first-generation students, one element that makes this resource so useful is that it contains clear contact information. The guide provides the name of a specific person students can follow up with for more information. It also includes clear step-by step guidance for complex tasks using causal, accessible language. It’s important to consider the needs of your institution’s first-generation college student population, as each institution is different.
This guide or similar resource will help students, especially first-generation college students, navigate important dates, deadlines, and terminology, as well as prioritize next steps. The step-by-step guidance in EAB’s toolkit will help you identify the information that is most important to clarify for first-generation college students. Download the full toolkit