By: Lauren Perrodin

For some of us, college wasn’t a matter of “if” but “where.” However, according to First Gen, the opposite is true for nearly half of college students. First-generation college students face unique challenges of breaking generational norms and choosing to pursue postsecondary education. Bursting through these barriers and considering a college education can seem like a daunting experience for these learners. Having educator support is something that can help them make that ultimate decision and nurture them toward achieving a new academic goal.

Let’s explore how to help first-gen college students with a few tips that could mean all the difference.

Demonstrating the Importance of Postsecondary Education

First-generation college students are those whose parents did not get a college education or degree, even if other members of their family did.

“I didn’t have a lot of guidance in high school…” reveals Christine Di Benedetto, M.A., a college admissions counseling instructor at UCR University Extension, “until I went to community college when I had a counselor there that had me take the Myers-Briggs [personality test], figure out careers choices, what I like to do, and really listened to me and what I wanted and what I needed.”

College courses offer graduates more potential opportunities, job security, and the ability to make an impact on their communities. With more industries requiring some sort of college education, a degree or professional certificate can mean a world of difference when it comes to getting the job they want.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, people who have earned an associate's degree earn 84% more than those who only get a high school diploma. That’s more than $8,000 a year difference.

The experience of going to college or pursuing courses in higher education, and the friendships made during those years, can carry with them for the rest of their lives — even offering them the potential to land the job of their dreams.

How You Can Support and Encourage First-Generation Students

UCR University Extension instructor, Heather Churney, M.Ed., says her biggest advice for people entering this profession is to “stay up to date with what’s going on within the landscape of colleges.” With an educational background in college admissions counseling, you’ll have the tools to approach student questions and challenges with ease.

Start a mentorship program for high school students based on their interests. Whether virtually or in-person, having the accessibility to chat with a professional in their desired field can make the possibility more real. At the same time, the student can ask questions about the professional’s journey to get to where they are, such as the classes they took and the internships they applied for.

Provide financial aid workshops to help students understand the opportunities available to help them pay for their education. A workshop can help students gain insight into the application process and where to get the information they need to apply. Although these workshops may seem boring, it could also provide some relieving financial answers to students’ questions.

Go over the college application process on top of taking the SAT and ACT exams. You can talk to students about how to pick the right school for them and what the application process entails for each institution. Understanding can make space for more excitement.

Educate on the resources available for first-generation college students. There are many scholarships and grants available for these learners, but many aren’t aware they exist. It’s crucial for schools to give their students the opportunity to find help if they need it.

Begin working with students as early as possible. Every student deserves the opportunity to pursue a college education. When exposing students early on to colleges and the overall application processes, this milestone won’t feel too out of reach.

Learn more on how to help guide students to establish new academic goals and bridge the gap between first-generation students and college by earning your college admissions counseling certificate. An education background could help you offer the best support possible for first-gen students.