Adjusting to college is tough for most fresh-faced college freshmen. But for the teens who are the first in their family to attend a university, it’s essentially like arriving in an unfamiliar foreign land. No matter how well-prepared and smart the student, the economic, academic, and cultural differences can undermine self-esteem and shake confidence. As one student told the researchers behind the Pell Institute’s report What Works for First-Generation College Students, “Getting into college is one thing. It’s actually sticking it through that’s the hard part.” Often, first-generation students describe the feeling of living in two different worlds — their family life and their college life — and not feeling like they truly, completely belong in either one.
Because of the academic, social, and cultural hurdles facing first-gen students, there are many organizations, groups, and programs designed to help. Here are a few programs devoted to helping first-to-college students thrive. Check for programs and groups like these wherever you’re admitted, too.
- Summer bridge programs are on-campus programs the summer before freshman year (or junior year for transfer students) designed to help first-generation students settle into their new life. In summer bridge programs, students often live on campus for a few weeks and take a college class or two. Students report that these programs help with things like registering for classes, finding their classes on campus, learning college-appropriate study habits, and getting extra help and tutoring.
- I’m First seeks to be a virtual community for first-gen college students. Partnering with 185 colleges across the country, I’m First maintains a list of the programs and services specifically designed for first-generation students at those schools. The organization also publishes honest blogs written by students in the program that address first-gen issues, which can help high school seniors get an idea of what’s ahead.
- Re-Imagining the First Year (RFY) is a new program that started in 2016. It offers students online tools, group meetings, and one-on-one advice at 44 public schools across multiple states.
- America Needs You (ANY) works in certain schools in NY, NJ, CA, and IL to help high-achieving, first-generation, low-income students succeed in college and embark on a successful career path. Students need to apply to get in, but those admitted receive one-on-one mentoring, “intensive career development,” and up to $2,000 in grants and other help — like buying a suit for your first internship!
- There are eight Federal TRIO programs funded by the U.S. Department of Education. The programs are designed to help economically disadvantaged, first-gen, and disabled students. All Student Support Services (SSS), for example, provide tutoring, help choosing the right courses, and financial aid help — including help searching for public and private scholarships. The Upward Bound Math and Science offers summer programs and access to STEM faculty. And for students considering graduate school, McNair TRIO programs help students gain access to internships, research opportunities, and academic counseling to put them on a path toward earning a PhD.
Want more? You’re in luck! Check out this list with dozens of programs dedicated to helping low-income and first-gen students succeed in college and beyond.