• 20 March 2019
7 Tips for Supporting a First-Gen College Student

7 Tips for Supporting a First-Gen College Student

Apr 03, 2018

First-generation college students face more pressure to succeed than their multi-generation college counterparts. Here are tips for tutors to help their first-gen achievers meet the challenges with confidence.

College has the ability to set a student’s course for a good life in terms of career choices and earning potential (and, it turns out, possibly one’s long-term health, too).

While a lot of college students struggle with making it through a four-year degree, first-generation college students - students who are the first in their family to go to a higher-education institution - face an even more uphill battle. A recent UCLA study found a 14-point percentage gap in graduating numbers between first-generation and multi-generation college students.

A number of issues face first-generation college students braving higher education’s social environment with its different cultural expectations, like professional networking and attending formal social functions.

Tutors can provide critical guidance for first-gen college-bound students in a number of meaningful ways:

1. It’s more than academics

Sure, marks are important. But first-generation college students can benefit from tutors’ valuable insight into the social norms that go with the college territory. What might come as second nature to multi-generational college families may be foreign to newcomers. First and foremost, open yourself to giving your student social and emotional support. Do they need to build certain skills, like how to talk to professors? Be available for students’ questions, and encourage them to ask openly.

2. Everyone needs a network

Explain the benefits of networking to your student. A major benefit of college life are the lifelong connections that students can make with others. Professors, students, professional contacts made through coursework and extracurricular activities: all are important parts of utilizing what college has to offer.

3. Expand their worldviews

Encourage students to explore their passions at college. After all, there’s no better time to take advantage of the freedom that college affords young adults. Explain that engaging in clubs and sports, or learning new skills and instruments, are ways to network and open students to new ways of thinking of life’s possibilities.

4. Help connect them to resources

Many colleges – and scholarships as well – provide assistance to first-generation college students, from counselling to financial support, as well. Help your student research what programs, grants, and other resources might be available to them.

5. Encourage your student to reach out

Just like you, there will be other key adults in your student’s college life. Perhaps it’s a professor in a subject or field that your student finds interesting, or an advisor to an extracurricular activity that your student is passionate to pursue. A mentor can be a supportive figure on the ground to answer their questions and give them some direction.

6. Remember their goals

For first-generation students, it can be daunting to know what lies beyond college, especially if their parents and close ones aren’t able to assist. Essential to providing your student social and emotional support is reminding them to stay focused. College burnout can affect any hardworking student. By keeping their eyes on the goal, students can remember how much work they’ve invested to get so far, and why.

7. Believing in themselves

Remind your student that they can do this! Tell them to take chances and challenge themselves. Try, work hard, move on. Your college-bound student is already nervous about the experience itself. Tutors have been encouraging them from Day One to believe in their own abilities. A bold self-starter knows that life comes with the good and the bad, the easy and the tough moments. It doesn’t take much to say, but remind your student all the same: You’ve got what it takes.


Heading to college with the right support and mindset in place beforehand will put first-generation college students in a good position to surmount the challenges they face, and help ensure they have a solid chance at success.

Tutors: have you worked with first-generation students? What other useful tips have you found? Share with your fellow tutors in the comments below!