College Access and Success Educational Equity Stories

Helping First-Gen Students Avoid Three Common Pitfalls

by Melissa Fries

Melissa Fries with wave-makers

First-generation college students face a greater risk of not attaining their college degrees due to a variety of reasons, including little to no at-home experience to help navigate the academic and social challenges college presents. At CAP, 78% of the nearly 600 students we serve are first-generation. Here are the three most common pitfalls first-gen students face and proven methods to avoid them.


Pitfall #1: Financial Issues

Aside from the high cost of attending college in the first place, common financial challenges for first-gen students include budgeting, understanding the full cost of attendance, and how financial aid works. Most college students haven’t paid bills before and don’t know how to manage money. So, when a student gets a lump sum of financial aid, for example, it’s hard to manage if s/he doesn’t have a plan to manage it wisely. Most first-gen students don’t have a financial safety net to fall back on, so planning is crucial. Ways to help students avoid this pitfall include:


Pitfall #2: Preparing for the Big Transition

The second issue many first-gen students face is being academically underprepared for the transition from high school to college, especially for STEM pathways. For students who attend under-resourced high schools, college classes can be especially intense and fast-paced. Ways to help students avoid this pitfall include:


Pitfall #3: Campus Engagement

Low-income, first-gen students in urban areas usually go to high schools with students who look like them. Transitioning to a predominantly white and/or wealthy college with students from different places can be a huge culture shock. For example, if you’re African-American, where do you get your hair cut? If you’re used to eating a certain kind of food and you can’t find it there, how do you adjust? Ways to help your student acclimate include:


Want to learn more about college success? Attend the inaugural CAP College Success Institute, May 20-21 in the San Francisco Bay Area!