How First Generation College Students Can Face Down Their Challenges

How First Generation College Students Can Face Down Their Challenges

black college graduate
Image: File
black college graduate
Image: File

This article was written by BE Smart Contributor Chelsea L. Dixon, M.S., M.A.T. For more about the author, see her bio at the end of this post.

Studies have shown that college graduates have greater earning potential and more opportunities to achieve financial and professional success than those with a high school diploma alone. However, the road to earning a college degree is often a difficult one, particularly for first generation college students.

The Problems

Culture Shock / Isolation

Culture shock and isolation are common to first generation students. The academic and cultural collegiate experience is different from that of high school and can be overwhelming. Not having family members who can advise such students beforehand plays a significant role in their sense of isolation.

First generation students may feel lonely and out of place because they have little prior knowledge or understanding of the campus culture. If there isn’t a large minority population on campus, they may also feel disconnected.


Self-doubt is probably most difficult for a first generation student to cope with. It’s common for such students to question whether or not they even belong on a college campus. They often feel the need to prove themselves.

Social Anxiety

Social anxiety is another common feeling that first generation college students experience. They may also have difficulty interacting with their peers and speaking up in class. Speaking to their professor may also be difficult, especially if the student needs to ask for help. Having to speak one-on-one with a professor during prescribed office hours may be intimidating.

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