The Ivy Coach Daily

February 28, 2023

What is a First Generation College Student?

This is the logo for The New York Times.
. First-generation college students’ parents did not graduate from four-year colleges anywhere in the world. Their student’s older sibling(s) may have graduated from four-year colleges. That still qualifies the student as first-gen since the sibling is a member of the same generation as their sibling(s).

All of America’s elite universities covet first-generation college students because they see their institutions as channels to America’s meritocracy.

As Rochelle Sharpe writes in a piece for The New York Times on first-generation college students, “It’s something that colleges love to brag about,’ said Brian Taylor, managing director of Ivy Coach, a New York counseling company, noting that many colleges list their first-gen statistics in their brochures.”

Sure, many elite universities offer preferential treatment to legacy applicants — the progeny of a school’s alumni base. Sure, they offer preferential treatment to recruited swimmers, squash, and golf players.

We recognize the irony that America’s elite colleges often favor the privileged.

But within this particular category, the first-generation college student category, America’s elite colleges are trying to level the playing field by opening a world to young people whose parents may have lacked access. These schools want to admit the intellectually curious and engaged children of taxi drivers, janitors, coal miners, and grocery store clerks. They want to help their children realize their versions of the American Dream.

The Percentage of First-Generation College Students at America’s Top Universities

Below you will find the percentage of students designated as first-generation at each of the top 20 schools ranked in the 2023 US News & World Report ranking of national universities.

You’ll note as you comb through the data that some schools cite how admitting first-generation college students is crucial to them. Yet, they fail to publish the specific percentage of first-generation college students, which raises our alarm bells.

Other schools publish the percentage of first-generation college students admitted to each respective incoming class yet fail to update their school profiles to include the portion of matriculants — the admitted students who chose to attend — who are first-generation college students. When that data was unavailable, we included the percentage of admits who were designated first-generation college students.

Sometimes, a school may release the data one year, yet not another. Why would a school cherrypick which years to publish the first-generation college student statistics? That seems obvious to us — they often don’t tout the figures in years in which the percentage wasn’t so high.

College / UniversityUS News 2023 RankingPercentage of First-Generation College Students – Class of 2026Percentage of First-Generation College Students – Class of 2025Percentage of First-Generation College Students – Class of 2024
Princeton University#117%22%17%
Massachusetts Institute of Technology#2Not ReleasedNot ReleasedNot Released
Harvard University#320.3%19.4%
Stanford University#321%18%20.2%
Yale University#318%16%19%
University of Chicago#6Not ReleasedNot ReleasedNot Released
Johns Hopkins University#721%Not ReleasedNot Released
University of Pennsylvania#718%15%15%
California Institute of Technology#9Not ReleasedNot ReleasedNot Released
Duke University#1010%9.47%Not Released
Northwestern University#1015.3%15.1%13.2%
Dartmouth College#1216%17%Not Released
Brown University#1315%17%18%
Vanderbilt University#13Not ReleasedNot ReleasedNot Released
Rice University#15Not ReleasedNot ReleasedNot Released
Washington University in St. Louis#1516%12%10%
Cornell University#1719.9%19.4%15.5%
Columbia University#1820%17%17%
University of Notre Dame#1814%20.3% (*combined with Pell Grant and students with family incomes under $65,000)Not Released
University of California, Berkeley#2020%26.6%Not Released
University of California, Los Angeles#2027%Not ReleasedNot Released

First-Generation College Student FAQ

If my parents graduated from four-year colleges in India, do I qualify as a first-generation college student?

No, first-generation college students are students whose parents did not graduate from a four-year anywhere in the world.

Are you a first-generation college student if your sibling went to college?

Yes, you are, as long as neither of your parents graduated from college. You and your sibling are members of the same generation. So you still qualify as the first-generation.

How do colleges know if you are first-generation?

It’s indicated on The Common Application under parents’ education. Whether your parents attended college in the United States or elsewhere in the world, The Common Application asks applicants to include this information — and you must be truthful. The college degrees of parents — even degrees in India — can be discovered on background checks. Besides, you must be honest on every component of your college application — not only because it’s the right thing to do but, if you are not, it’s grounds for your admission to be rescinded.

Why should my child be penalized because I went to college?

It’s not that your child is being penalized. It’s just that first-gens are being given an extra boost.

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