Is the College Application Process Different for First Generation Students?

Application Strategies
July 21, 2020
For Many First Generation College Students, The College Application Process Seems Daunting…

Yet at its core, the application process for first generation students is not all that different from their peers! While there are some challenges that many first generation students share, there are more resources and programs available than ever to help provide the financial and emotional support these students need to make this big change.

In this article, we’ll cover how you can help support the first generation student in your life as they navigate college applications.

What Is A First Generation College Student?

A student is defined as a first generation college student if none of their immediate family has gone to college, usually in reference to their parents not having college degrees. If neither parent has a college degree, or only attended college for a few semesters without completing a degree, then a student is generally considered first generation. Most colleges will ask a student if their parents attended college directly on the application in order to gain a clearer picture of their experiences and backgrounds.

These students represent generational progress and an exciting new adventure for the entire family, yet being a first generation student can come with several challenges.

The Challenges Of Being A First Generation Student


For the vast majority of students, applying to college is a family affair in which both the student and parents work together to gather information, fill out paperwork, and provide support. Yet, for students whose parents did not attend college, their parents will not have the first-hand experience of applying for college that others may have.

This matters because applying for college is a structured process filled with deadlines, paperwork, and doing whatever a student can to make their application shine in the holistic admission process. While first generation students may not be able to lean on their parent’s personal experience for support, their parents can still learn along with them to help keep them on track.


For many students, the college where either one of their parents went to school will end up making it onto their reach, target, and safety school list. Many students still choose to attend their parent’s alma mater for a variety of reasons, from having family connections within the school to legacy admissions being given more weight.

For first generation students, however, this personal family connection and experience is missing. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing! As colleges switch their admissions focus from family connections and academics to view a student’s entire background and efforts, a student can turn their first generation status into a powerful advantage in their college essays.


Many students from low-income families fall into the first generation student category, and the cost of college continues to rise every year, making it difficult for some families to overcome the financial burden of college. In addition to college itself being a large expense, many pre-college activities and experiences designed to get students ready for higher education may be out of reach for lower-income students.

Fortunately, these challenges should not prevent a student from attending college - there are affordable colleges across the country, merit-based and need-based financial aid, and the FASFA to help make college financially possible for your family. Still, it’s one more hurdle to consider for first generation students


Since families with first generation college students often have less background knowledge surrounding the college admissions process and college in general, these families often face challenges throughout the process. These challenges can range from small paperwork roadblocks to information and choice overload that leaves students too overwhelmed to make a decision. For these reasons, many first generation students often seek out extra support throughout the college admissions process to feel comfortable and confident in their efforts.

How To Help First Generation Students Apply To College


One of the most difficult parts of the college application process for any student to grasp, first generation or not, is the timeline. There are many steps students must take when applying to college, from researching their options to asking for letters of recommendation to sending in applications before the deadlines.

One of the best ways to help your first generation student feel more comfortable with the process is to start as early as possible.

Note: Don’t wait until their senior year to start talking about college! Even just talking about the idea of college in their sophomore year will help them feel more comfortable getting engaged and looking through their options come junior year. Even a small amount of prep work before senior year can go a long way toward making college applications go more smoothly.


Before your student sits down to fill out their college applications, it helps to have all the necessary paperwork, documents, and resources available. This can range from your financial documents to their high school transcript. Helping your student hunt down the paperwork can relieve them of some of the stress and confusion associated with the college application process.


For many first generation college students, it can become overwhelming to juggle all the aspects of college admissions on top of their regular school work. In these cases, it can help to bring in a team of outside experts who are already familiar with creating strong college applications.

Note: Our WeAdmit counselors have worked with countless first generation students and their families in order to help them get into their dream college.


Above all else, one of the best things that those surrounding first generation college students can do to help them with their college applications is to provide support.

It can be confusing and sometimes exhausting going through the admissions process, and students will have a lot on their plate. Make sure you provide the proper support by offering to listen to their frustrations, provide feedback on their essays or other work, and help them demonstrate an interest in their top colleges. Even if it seems like you are providing only a small amount of help, simply being there for your student during this difficult time can provide a lot of support.

What Your College Experience Will Be Like

Like their peers, first generation college students will gain unique experiences, a strong educational foundation, and a new sense of who they are as a person when they attend college. This experience is uplifting not just to the first generation student, but their entire family as well. For many of these families, getting a child into college to provide a better life for them is a huge goal and a worthwhile journey.

If your child is a first generation student, we would love to help you through this journey. Our WeAdmit counselors have helped students from all walks of life reflect their achievements, background, and personality through their college application. As more colleges turn toward holistic admissions, it’s more important than ever to emphasize everything your student can accomplish.



Need more Information?

Gain all the information you need by getting in touch with our admissions team or booking a free 30-minute counseling session.