How to Start the College Search as a First Gen Student

I’ve always known that I would go to college despite having parents without college degrees. This dream of pursuing higher education was an abstract idea with no concrete understanding of what the process would truly entail. My peers could utilize their parents’ college experiences, yet my mom could only offer her support since she was just as clueless about college as I was. Because of my first-generation background, my college search and application process were heavily informed by others in my community and my own research. I’m eternally grateful to have had mentors, teachers, and counselors who could aid me in my pursuit of higher education and have been inspired by them to offer my own experience and support to other first-generation students during the college process.

           The college search can be an incredibly daunting task to start. At the beginning of my search, I had no idea of what I wanted in a college, only that I wanted to go to college. There are so many colleges/universities and several types to choose from, and I didn’t know where to begin looking. The advice that I received and recommend to anyone beginning their college search is to start with deciding what you want from your college experience. Narrow down the type of experience and qualities you want from a college. When coming up with these standards, there are a few important considerations that can help guide you during this process. You should know what type of learning environment would suit you best. For example, I had strong connections with my high school teachers and preferred smaller classes that I could participate in. This helped me to narrow down my search to mostly liberal arts colleges with small classroom sizes. Another consideration is what you want from your college community. What do you value in a community? Doing this will help you decide what type of college you want to go to. From there, you can begin looking into specific schools!

           When researching individual colleges, there are a few other considerations that are particularly relevant to First Gen applicants:

  1. What are the resources for first-generation students? Look for specific programs and ways the college supports its first-gen students. If you can’t find this information on the college’s website, send an email. Admissions offices are usually more than excited to answer any questions you may have about their college. 
  2. What does financial aid look like? Does the college meet 100% of the demonstrated need in their financial aid award? Additionally, some colleges are need-blind, which means they don’t consider a student’s financial situation when reviewing their application. On the other hand, some colleges will be need-aware which means they’ll consider whether a student will be financially able to attend the college when reviewing their application. Looking into the specific financial aid policies is a very important aspect of a college search. 
  3. How diverse is the college? And how do they approach DEI? This one is pretty self-explanatory, but it’s important to consider who will be your future peers. 

The last piece of advice I have for first-generation students is to utilize all available resources. Go beyond looking at the college’s website by scheduling an informational interview, checking their admissions Instagram, and/or even attending an info session. There are so many ways to learn more about a college, and the college search can and should be an exciting experience. Good luck!