(Do first generation college students have inherent advantages or disadvantages when it comes to academic success? According to a study from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), first generation college students were less likely to graduate with a bachelor’s degree than their peers whose parents attended college. The study found that first generation students “completed fewer credits, took fewer academic courses, earned lower grades, needed more remedial assistance, and were more likely to withdraw from or repeat courses they attempted.” This might sound quite sobering for us first-timers. However, I am optimistic that this does not need to be the case for “first gen” students who attend Sattler College. Here are four pieces of advice, from one first generation student to another.
1. Embrace your family’s unique educational legacy. My mother went to Rosedale Bible College for two years in the 1980s (then Rosedale Bible Institute). Although she never pursued a college degree, she acquired practical knowledge with which she can speak into my educational journey. On my occasional furloughs home, she often emphasizes the importance of taking Sundays off from school work. She also warns me about the dangers of chronic procrastination, something I apparently struggle with. Although I have yet to master these habits (I’m getting closer—I think), I regard these as wise pieces of advice that I try to follow. My father, who finished his schooling at 10th grade, is one of the smartest people I know. I am frequently amazed at his understanding of complex topics. Having grown up in a very poor family, he recognizes the important role education played in his life and encouraged me to pursue higher education at Sattler. Look at your own family’s educational legacy. Whether you are the first of your family members to go to college or the tenth, the educational legacy you receive from past generations is invaluable. Your parents and grandparents have great nuggets of educational advice for you, regardless of whether they went to college or not. Listen.
2. Prepare for college while in high school. If you are an aspiring first-generation college student, prepare for college by stretching yourself during high school. If given the chance, take harder classes. Add extra electives. Engage in profitable extracurricular activities. Be diligent in completing homework. One Sattler student reflected, “One challenge I face coming from a non-colleged family and community is that my high school education was not tailored toward college.” This will be the reality for some. However, this only reinforces the need to take full advantage of the opportunities that do come before graduating high school. When I was in high school, I chose to take some “extra” classes offered to me. They included psychology, calculus, statistics, and AP English language and composition. Unsurprisingly, those classes gave me a good foundation for classes I would later take at Sattler.
3. Develop a strong work ethic. Whether in high school or starting college, first generation students need to learn to work diligently. One thing I’ve noticed from my college experience is that it doesn’t necessarily matter how smart you are; what matters is how much work you are willing to put in to achieve your goals. Whether you are a first generation student or not, a strong work ethic will lead you to success.
4. Get to know your college professors. At Sattler, you have the opportunity to personally connect with your professors. If you are a first generation college student, professors are valuable resources. Their insights into what it takes to succeed at the college level are based on real experience. Take advantage of it. If they recommend you do something, do it. The amount of academic advice you can harness from professors is tremendous.
While writing this, I wondered how many Sattler students were first generation college students. So I asked them. Interestingly, more than fifty percent of Sattler students are first gen students! This school is full of trailblazers. I asked them to share the benefits of being a first generation student. Here are some of their responses:
“I know what I want because it is a choice I have made rather than a default decision…I feel like since it was not a default decision, I put my all into it.”
“One benefit of being a first generation student is that your family has just as much curiosity about what you’re learning as you do, so calling home is always a blast cause you’re not just repeating to them stale info that they learned 20 years ago.”
“I believe it’s a bit harder, simply because you don’t know what you’re getting into, yet for the same reason, it becomes more adventurous!”
“One of the benefits is the novelty of it. It’s fun to think of breaking ground in education for my family.”
Though the challenges facing a first generation student may seem disadvantageous, I hope that I’ve inspired you to confront those challenges head on.
If you come from a "non-colleged" background, the college-seeking maze can feel overwhelming. Our guide, written especially for homeschoolers, is helpful to any student seeking direction. Download our free Homeschooler's Guide to College: Everything You Need to Know About Applying, Deciding and Preparing for School.
Matthew Baugher is a junior at Sattler College, majoring in history and minoring in business. Hailing from the beautiful countryside of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, Matthew is passionate about sunsets, quality time with family, compelling books, and his black Labrador retriever, Dakota. With deep care for the people around him, Matthew desires to use his talents and skills to make an impact in the world for Christ.