First-Generation Students

Trends and Tips for College Preparation

Who are first-generation students?


  • students whose parents received no higher than a high school diploma (they may have completed some college but obtained no college degree) (Gibbons, 2010)
  • the first in their immediate family to attend college (CollegeBoard, n.d.)

Issues first-generation students may face

  • Less help from parents on ACT or SAT prep
  • Less help from parents on college applications
  • Less rigorous coursework
  • More perceived barriers to attending college
  • Lower ACT and SAT scores (Gibbons, 2010)

Current trends in college readiness

  • Only 9% of first-generation students met all four college-readiness benchmarks on the ACT (compared to 26% of all students)
  • 52% of first-generation students did not meet ANY college readiness benchmarks on the ACT
  • Enrollment in core curriculum had a significant impact on whether or not first-generation students met ACT college-readiness benchmarks
English: 44% core vs. 22% non-core
Reading: 25% core vs. 14% non-core
Mathematics: 24% core vs. 4% non-core
Science: 19% core vs. 8% non-core
  • 67% of first-generation students are enrolled in core curriculum (compared to 80% of students whose parents have a bachelors degree)
  • 94% of first-generation students aspire for some type of postsecondary degree (ACT, 2013)
  • 21% of first-generation students enroll in four-year colleges compared to 71% of students whose parents have a college degree (Harvey, 2004)

Steps to take when helping prepare first-generation students for college


Identify students early and reach out (CollegeBoard, n.d.)
  • Expose students to role models (college students or college graduates) with backgrounds that are similar to those of your students-even better if they are alumni of your high school! (Harvey, 2004)
Prepare students (Harvey, 2004)
  • Explore students’ interests and abilities, match these to careers and provide information on job responsibilities, education needed (including relevant college major), and relevant high school course plan (CollegeBoard, n.d.; Harvey, 2004)
  • Enroll students in rigorous academic curriculum, especially in math classes (Harvey, 2004; Gibbons, 2010)
  • Test students (Harvey, 2004)
  • ACT and SAT scores are second to grades in college admissions decision
  • Hold information sessions for parents who do not have college degrees and include information directly relevant to this demographic, including information on test-prep books and websites with sample questions as well as what is available in school and local libraries (Harvey, 2004)
Apply (Harvey, 2004)
  • Check for fee waivers
  • Discuss application deadlines
  • Help with online applications, and offer paper applications if students/parents are uncomfortable completing applications online (CollegeBoard, n.d.)
Enroll and pay
  • Students who complete the previous steps are as likely to enroll in college as their peers with college-educated parents
  • Assist with the FAFSA process

Need more information?

Please contact Ms. Coyle.