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Supporting First-Generation College Students

First-generation college students must overcome a variety of social, academic, and administrative barriers to succeed in college. 33% of first-generation students drop out within three years, compared to only 14% of continuing generation students. As the number of first-generation students grows, institutions face increasing pressure to improve outcomes for this group.

In this Guide:

Action Support

Educate first-gen parents about the college experience

Parents of first-generation students want to be involved during their child’s time in college, but they lack knowledge about the college experience and may feel they can’t provide support. Provide opportunities to orient first-gen parents to higher education and advise them on how to support their child throughout the first year and beyond.

Action Support

Reduce jargon to make university materials more accessible for first-gen students

As soon as they begin interacting with colleges and universities, first-gen students must navigate systems, processes, and language they are unfamiliar with. Higher education terminology can be confusing, complicating task completion and reinforcing questions about belonging that often hinder first-generation students’ transition.

  • Research Highlights

    The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill completed a “translation exercise” to improve the readability of some of their most accessed resources for incoming students. View the case study below, then complete the jargon reduction exercise yourself.

Action Support

Use positive identity-based messaging to foster community for first-gen students

Many first-generation college students struggle with their initial transition, often feeling isolated or questioning whether they truly belong at the institution.

Recognizing first-generation status as an important aspect of students’ identities communicates to them that they are not alone, they have resources to support them, and they shouldn’t be ashamed.

Decision Support

Extend career preparation to first-gen students

First-generation students may be underprepared for securing a fulfilling career after graduation. They might have limited personal connections, less experience networking, or be unfamiliar with professional interactions (e.g., reaching out to professional contacts for help and guidance). Learn how you can jumpstart career development for first-gen students.

More Resources

Research Report

8 questions to ask when evaluating the impact of student success programs

Measuring the impact of individual student success programs is a difficult endeavor. To better track impact, Purdue University's…
Strategic Advisory Services
Research Report

Four components of effective sophomore retention efforts

As they enter their second year, students lose the structured support network of the first-year experience. A significant…
Strategic Advisory Services

How UW-Eau Claire uses metrics to help departments track progress on student outcomes

How can academic leaders instill accountability for institution-wide student success measures among individual faculty members? Learn how the…
Strategic Advisory Services