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Students who are first in their family to attend college face unique challenges


Monday, February 25, 2013

Earning a college degree is one of the best ways for young people to invest in their future by improving their employment prospects. However, the rising cost of higher education can be prohibitive, especially for high school students from lower income families. Many of these students have ambitious academic goals, but may lack the support and guidance of parents who went to college themselves. The New York Times recently offered some tips to these young people, known as first-generation college students, to help them achieve a college education.

Increasingly common
Michele Hernandez, former assistant director of admissions at Dartmouth College and author of several books on the college admissions process, wrote in a blog post that approximately 30 percent of entering freshmen in the U.S. are first-generation students. While some applicants may be hesitant to admit that their parents did not attend college, Hernandez claims this situation may be an advantage for first-generation students, as college admissions officials look for applicants with unusual backgrounds to help ensure a diverse student body. Students who are the first in their family to attend college can highlight how this family dynamic may have shaped their goals for the future while identifying ways in which earning a degree will improve their quality of life.

Reaching out
While coming from a family with no college graduates does not have to be a barrier to future success, it can be a challenge for students who have to navigate the college search, application and admissions process without parental guidance. For this reason, Hernandez recommends that first-generation students reach out to the admissions officers at their prospective schools to determine whether any specialized support programs are in place to help individuals like them.

Financial challenges
One of the biggest obstacles first-generation students face is financial support. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, first-generation students should seek out the advice of a financial aid professional at the colleges they are interested in prior to submitting their paperwork. Working with these professionals, students may discover that there may be more financial support available than they had initially thought.

First-generation students may feel that even the financial aid application process is a roadblock to pursuing a college degree. Having the advice and support of a financial aid officer or student loan counselor can make a substantial difference in students' likelihood of gaining admission to, and being able to afford, the schools they want to attend.

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