I am a first-generation college student, which I define as the first person in my family to attend and complete a four-year college degree. When I was a senior in high school, I met my guidance counselor for the first time.
She was the only adult to ever ask me if I intended to go to college. Because neither of my parents had attended college (my Dad hadn’t even graduated high school), I told her “No” because I never even considered that as an option.
I ended up going to college several years later and made many mistakes along the way. I took classes I didn’t need and signed financial contracts I didn’t understand all because I was overwhelmed and didn’t even know what questions to ask. Because this was the 1980’s, though, college admissions and navigating the college experience was a LOT easier than it is today.
As a high school counselor for 28 years, I saw big changes happening in college admissions; costs were increasing dramatically and admission expectations were more challenging. The impact on first-generation students was drastic and continues to this day.
As a result, in comparing first generation college students with their peers, whose parents did attend college, there are three Gaps these students face: the Opportunity Gap, the Awareness Gap and the Achievement Gap. I have listed a few of these statistics from a 2014 College Board study that show the challenges they face:
- Since 1990, the cost of in-state tuition has quintupled.
- About 75.6% of first generation students in college need to work during their freshman year.
- About 55% of first gen students require at least one remedial course, usually in math, in college. (The cost is the same as a college course, but no credit is received.)
- Students don’t understand the college admissions’ process.
- They don’t understand financial aid, FAFSA or scholarships.
- Most first generation students or their parents don’t go on college visits or contact the college with questions, due to overwhelming feelings of discomfort and embarrassment.
- Research supports that a student’s parent’s income plays a significant and direct role in educational completion rates.
- Students of parents with a household income of up to $29,999 face tremendous odds, where only 16.9% earn a bachelor’s degree within six years, 23.3% earn an associates’ degree, 16% are still in high school, and 44% drop out.
A passion for first-generation students
I am very passionate about supporting first generation college bound students. For the past three years, I have partnered with the counseling office at Spring Mills High School in Spring Mills, West Virginia to provide one-on-one counseling and guidance to some of their first-generation students on a pro-bono basis.
This year, Spring Mills High School and Launching College Success have been honored with a $2,500 grant from the United Way of the Eastern Panhandle. Their mission is to inspire and mobilize the community to create change. This money will go a long way towards offering my services to more students.
This year, I am able to offer a practice SAT test to the students, as well as testing strategies that will help them to improve their scores to get into college. The long-term hope of this partnership is to bring this program to other first-generation students within West Virginia who dream of a college education.
Both the Spring Mills High School Guidance Department and Launching College Success are grateful for the support and financial encouragement from the United Way of the Eastern Panhandle.