The Ivy Coach Daily

May 12, 2022

A Note on First-Generation Status in Admissions

The children of American immigrants do not qualify as first-generation college students unless neither parent earned undergraduate degrees anywhere in the world.

A parent recently asked us if first-generation status applies to applicants whose parents completed their undergraduate studies outside of the United States. Maybe they earned their undergraduate degrees in the United Kingdom, China, or Singapore. Maybe they only did their graduate studies in the United States. Or maybe they never attended graduate school. The answer is, of course, an unequivocal no. First-generation college students are not the children of college-educated parents — even if the parents attended college outside of the United States. Rather, first-generation college students are the first in their immediate families to attend college. It’s as simple as that.

First-generation students are, of course, a highly coveted group among America’s elite colleges. In just about every college press release about incoming classes, colleges tout the percentage of students who will be the first in their families to attend college. At our nation’s top schools, it’s not uncommon for about 20% of admits to be first-generation students as colleges want to punch these students’ tickets to their versions of the American Dream. But these schools are strict about who qualifies and who does not qualify as a first-gen student. Can an international applicant qualify? Of course. If a student’s parents did not attend universities anywhere in the world, they are a first-generation student. Yes, indeed! First-generation status is not limited to domestic applicants.

Yet do you know who doesn’t qualify as a first-generation college student? A child of immigrants who received college educations at universities in other parts of the world. You see, some wrongly believe that first-generation status in college admissions has to do with when one’s parents or grandparents came to America. But that is not the case. It’s not about which generation of an applicant’s family settled in the United States. It’s about which generation did or did not attend college.

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