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6 Tips for First-Generation College Students

By Tamar Shulsinger
January 10, 2018

One in five college students are the first in their families to go to college, and are known as first-generation college students. Through their hard work and perseverance, first-generation students surpass significant hurdles to get to a university. Yet sometimes college can still feel overwhelming.

Below are several tips to help first-generation students thrive in school and beyond.

Get All the Help You Need

Get the all the help you need by connecting with the right people—from professors to counselors to your local career center. Don’t be afraid to develop strong social ties with those around you. Remember to stay involved with your social network and talk to people you trust. Take advantage of any tutoring programs and counseling centers your university may offer. These services can help you navigate the college experience and feel understood.

Find the Right Format to Fit Your Lifestyle

Whether it’s taking classes online, in-person, or in a hybrid format that combines the two, find the right fit for your lifestyle. Many first-generation students hold jobs or have other commitments outside of class, so it’s crucial to find the best arrangement for you. This will minimize stress and help keep your life balanced.

Take Part in Activities You Enjoy

Become involved with your college community to feel connected with other students, whether through clubs, activities, or hobbies you enjoy. By taking part in campus activities, you better immerse yourself in the college experience and actively make important connections with students—making friends and broadening your network.  If you’re an online student, check out the school’s social media pages, such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as discussion boards to stay connected.

Know Your Limits

Don’t overload your schedule by cramming in too many courses and activities at once. Focus on a few things outside of class—like work or extracurricular activities—and avoid overloading on classes. It’s important to pace yourself so you don’t feel overwhelmed. Time management is important, and having a set schedule can help you balance your different needs and interests, whether it’s academic, social, work, or family.

Get the Financial Help You Want Early On

From scholarships to grants and loans, don’t wait to seek the financial help you want. Create a financial plan and consider the costs you could accrue in addition to tuition, such as fees, books, room and board, and transportation. Also, consider keeping track of any student loan debt you accrue while in school. Don’t hesitate to speak to advisors and counselors; they can help you navigate the financial aid process during your time in college.

Focus on the Big Picture: Getting Your Degree

The most important thing is focusing on your future and getting your college degree.

Commit to your goal of finishing college. Don’t focus on negative self-talk or doubts, and keep your eye on the prize. Being a first-generation college student can be an asset to getting your degree. Use your network, stay focused, and enjoy the college experience.


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About Tamar Shulsinger
Tamar Shulsinger is a digital content consultant for Northeastern University.