First-generation college students — students who are the first generation of their family to attend college — can face additional challenges that others don’t encounter on campus.
According to at least one study, first-generation students deal with more financial strain on campus than continuing-generation students. There are several factors tied into those statistics, but it’s important not to let that scare you away from pursuing your college dreams.
There is a whole world to explore once you start college. Finances don’t have to be an obstacle to start that exploration — they can be a learning experience, like everything else. We asked Elon Brissette, the coordinator of financial counseling at Alma College, for advice on how first-generation college students — and anyone else who needs help — can navigate the process of paying for your college education.
Stop, breathe and think
People in general, whether they are first-generation college students or not, don’t know what they don’t know, Elon says. When first-year, first-generation college students are already thinking about everything from classes to food to living away from home … taking finances into account can be overwhelming. As it relates to this subject, students don’t always know what information they should share or what questions they should ask. So, knowing your resources on campus is key.
Elon suggests that students and their families take their time when considering topics like setting a four-year financial plan on paying for college, seeking scholarships and taking out loans. There’s nothing wrong with reviewing your financial aid award letter with your admissions representative and financial aid staff member and then taking your time to just think about it. Elon suggests you revisit the subject after a week and see if it all makes sense. If you feel confused, don’t be afraid to go back and ask for help.
Know your resources
It can be challenging for any student to come to campus without the built-in system they may have had at home, but there is always someone who will be there for you, Elon says. Too often, first-generation college students don’t realize the financial, academic and support services that are available to them on campus.
As it relates to financial supports, Elon suggests that students study up on what is available to them — and once again, don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. At Alma College, there is a Financial Aid Office (which can assist with the specific financial aid you were awarded, like grants, scholarships, work study, and student loans you were offered), Financial Services Office (which is where you go to pay tuition at the beginning of every semester and find out information on payment plans) and the Coordinator of Financial Counseling (who can talk to you privately or in small groups about more general financial wellness topics).
Find your family
It is also important to find highly motivated students you can partner with; peers who genuinely care about you and understand what life is like being the first in your family to go to college — or who are willing to listen. There is a group on campus for everyone, a group where you can be yourself.
At Alma College, the King-Chavez-Parks (KCP) Mentor Program is one of those groups. It provides mentorship for first-year students in navigating college and all it has to offer. Elon said, these mentors help with everything from how to access college resources to how to make friends. A similar program, Campbell Scholars, provides cultural, academic, social, and financial literacy resources and mentorship to students of color at Alma College. Both are wonderful opportunities designed to support you and help you make the most