The Struggles of First-Generation College Students

First Gen College Students, First Generation in Admissions, First Gen College Admission
America’s elite colleges covet students who will be the first in their families to attend college.

On our college admissions blog, we’ve touched over the years upon the significance — from the standpoint of highly selective college admissions — of being the first in one’s immediate family to attend college. In short, our nation’s elite colleges covet these very students. You’ll note in just about every college press release in which they share information about their admitted students that they’ll include a line on the percentage of students who will be the first in their immediate families to attend college. After all, elite colleges are deeply proud to offer these students admission. Extending offers of admission to deserving students whose parents didn’t happen to attend college is an opportunity for these schools to truly change lives, to rewrite the narrative of a family. Who wouldn’t want to do that?

First-Generation Status is an Advantage in Admissions But Often a Disadvantage Once Enrolled

But what we haven’t touched upon much over the years are the obstacles many of these students must overcome once they attend these schools. Unlike some of their more advantaged peers, many first-generation college students struggle with class and major selection. Some struggle with excelling in their coursework. Some struggle to fit in and find friends in an environment in which they see other students as coming from privilege. Some grow frustrated how easy it is for their peers to find summer internships with their parents’ connections, while they have to hustle to get interviews.

New Book Shines Spotlight on Struggles of First-Generation College Students

A book by Anthony Abraham Jack — himself a first-generation, low-income college student who was able to attend a prep school on scholarship before attending college — entitled The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students offers an ethnographic account of the experiences of low-income students on American college campuses. As Eren Orbey writes for The New Yorker, “The basis of Jack’s investigation is a two-year residency at an unnamed liberal-arts school in the Northeast, where he immersed himself in campus culture and conducted extended interviews with more than a hundred students. Instead of consigning low-income undergraduates, as university policies and scholarly articles often do, to one homogenous minority, he proposes a more nuanced language to describe and address the needs of different contingents. His research illuminates how and why the ‘privileged poor,’ whose experiences at competitive private schools have primed them for academic success, outperform their ‘doubly disadvantaged’ peers, who have languished in underfunded public schools.”

Do our readers think that our nation’s most elite colleges can and must do more for low-income students once they offer them admission? Let us know your thoughts by posting a Comment below. We look forward to hearing from you!


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