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4 Helpful Tips for Parents of First-Generation College Students

Even though you didn't attend college, you can still help your first-gen student with the process. Here are easy ways to support them on their journey.

Embarking on the college journey can be complex for any student, especially so if they’re the first in their family to do so. First-generation college students lack the experience with higher education other students might have through their parents, so your student may need extra help with the application process, financial aid, and support access. They may also struggle with imposter syndrome and isolation, adding stress in an unfamiliar environment. But you can help them a lot more than you may think you can! Parenting a first-gen college student requires a solid plan to understand the process they’re going through, avoid burnout, and keep them in school until graduation. Here are four important ways you can support your student.

1. Understand the unique challenges faced by first-gen students

You have the power to help your students recognize stumbling blocks and work with them to find solutions. Most first-gen students will need extra help with college applications, researching colleges, gathering transcripts, asking for letters of recommendation, taking tests, meeting deadlines, and more. They also need to craft compelling personal statements and essays to help them stand out from other applicants. Parents should stay informed of these expectations to support their students by helping them stay on top of important details and deadlines.

The financial burden of application fees and college tuition often plague the application process as well. Parents should assist their students by working with them to research scholarships, grants, and student loans. You can also encourage them to consider on-campus work-study opportunities to help cover expenses. Have an open conversation with them about how much, if anything, you can contribute and create a financial plan with them.

2. Build a support network for them

For a first-generation college student, success can largely depend on their support network. As a parent, you can play a vital role in building and nurturing this network by:

  • Encouraging your teen to connect with other first-gen students on campus
  • Supporting relationship growth with professors and academic advisors
  • Reaching out to other parents to create a network of support where advice can be shared

The impact of these connections and support has the potential to last long after college and into their careers.

Related: Making the Most of Your Campus Resources as a First-Generation Student

3. Find resources that cater to you and your student

Colleges and universities offer many resources that support first-generation students, including academic assistance, mentorship, financial aid, and counseling. When researching colleges, prioritize those with dedicated offices or programs for first-generation families. These resources can provide guidance, information, and emotional support throughout the college experience. In addition to college resources, national organizations provide support, scholarships, college planning services, and online communities for families who are new to the college planning and application process.

4. Help students balance academics, work, and life

The transition to college can be difficult, and not properly adjusting to the changes in their academic work and personal life can negatively impact your student's experience. To reduce frustration, parents can help first-generation students develop practical time management skills and achieve a healthy balance. Encourage your student to create a weekly schedule that includes time for classes, studying, work, activities, and personal time. This structured plan will help them prioritize their responsibilities and stay focused.

Remind your first-gen student to also prioritize self-care by taking breaks, exercising, and enjoying relaxation time. Doing so promotes overall well-being and prevents burnout. Also, highlight the importance of seeking help when they need it. Encourage your student to contact professors for homework clarification, use tutoring services to bring up a grade, or meet with a campus mental health counselor if they ever feel like they’re struggling or need someone else to talk to.

Related: Top 5 Time Management Tips for High School Students

Even if you haven’t gone through the college search and admission process yourself, parental involvement can greatly impact the outcome of the first-generation college student experience. While you can't do everything for your students, you can help them navigate any complexities and difficulties they may face. Encourage them to build a strong support network, help them find specific resources for first-gen students, and teach them how to balance their academic and personal lives effectively. By maintaining open communication, providing guidance, and remaining an active part of their academic planning, you can help your student succeed in college!

This is just the start of our advice for first-gen teens and the college search! Check out our “first-generation students” tag to find even more blogs and articles about this important topic.

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About Tiffany Young

Tiffany Young is a freelance writer, content strategist, and former graduate assistant. She writes about the latest developments in teaching, public policy, standardized testing, and educational technology.


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