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3 things I Wish I Knew as a First-Generation College Student

by Story2 Guest Author, on Sep 1, 2016 7:17:52 PM


My kitchen table was littered with different college brochures from institutions in different cities across America. I read through the different opportunities, classes, and experience that would be possible on each different campus. While this was all very exciting, I had an underlying anxiety about the whole thing. What if I didn’t get in anywhere? How did I know which would be the best college for me?

 I was a rising high school senior who was just getting ready to embark upon the college admissions search, and this was certainly both an exciting and nerve racking process. You see, I was a first-generation college student and neither of my parents had the experience of going away to a four-year residential college (after I started at Wake Forest University, my mom actually went back to school and received her bachelor’s degree, which was really amazing). This meant that no one in my family really knew what to expect in this process or when I got to college.

Being a first-generation student certainly has its set of challenges, but the admissions process was an empowering experience. Inspired by my own admissions search, I started a career in college admissions and am an Associate Director of College Counseling at a private high school (previously, I worked as a Sr. Assistant Director of Admissions for four years at Kenyon College). All of this means that I go through the college admissions process each year with a new group of students!

Recently, I have been thinking about what I wish I knew starting the admissions process, that I know now. What are some of the things that other first-gen students should know about the college search and the admissions process?

Some colleges will pay for your trips to campus! 

Many colleges are interested in enrolling first-generation and other underrepresented students and know that the cost of visiting their campuses can be very expensive. Because of this, these colleges offer “travel grants” for students that pay for the expenses of traveling to campus (whether they are a plane fare, train ticket, or the cost of gas). College Greenlight is a fantastic organization that keeps track of these opportunities.

Career Development is really important

While you may not know exactly what you want to do with your life, college is a great opportunity to explore different potential careers or paths through internships, research, and other enrichment opportunities. Many colleges will report the average earnings of their graduates and the percentage of graduates employed, but it is worth digging deeper to that. Learn about how exactly the career and professional development process works, when it starts, and what services they offer alums. For example some schools, such as Connecticut College, offer stipends for students so they can do unpaid internships. And at whatever college you wind up at, be sure to make an appointment with career services during your first year. This will set you so far ahead

Sticker Price is not the price that you will necessarily pay 

I remember looking at the cost of tuition and seeing numbers that made my head spin (there was no way that might parents could afford these prices). But it turns out that college can be incredibly affordable and the most expensive private schools are actually the institutions that give the best financial aid packages. If a school “meets full demonstrated need” that is a good sign, because they will cover the cost of what your family can’t pay with grants, work study, and some loans (though the majority of aid packages are typically grants that you don’t have to pay back). The Net Price Calculator is a great tool that will help estimate what a financial aid package would be for your family at a particular school.

Being a first-generation student is at once very exciting, but also a bit daunting. You are going into uncharted territory, but there is so much possibility. If you are reading this article, you are absolutely on the right track. Just remember that there are so many people (your family, guidance counselors, teachers, and admissions officers) who want to help and support you in this process.


Written by Will Geiger

Will Geiger has extensive experience in college admissions that includes work at an elite independent school and a selective liberal arts college. He graduated from Wake Forest University with honors in history and received his master's degree from the University of Pennsylvania.


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Topics:college admission