First Generation Parents and Students
If your child is the first member of your family to attend college (“first generation” college student), they are likely facing some unique challenges. Before discussing those challenges, let me first say, congratulations to you as parents. You should be very proud of yourselves. You have obviously done a lot of great things as a parent to have your child enter college. Without your guidance and support, it is very unlikely that your child would have been able to make it this far.
First-generation students often struggle with issues that are unique to them. For example, these students may begin their college experience with little or no knowledge of the expectations, resources, or jargon associated with a college campus. This lack of knowledge may prevent first-generation students from fully taking advantage of the academic and social benefits of higher education. Unfortunately, these issues may contribute to students leaving school before graduating.
As a first generation college student, I have experienced firsthand many of the challenges that first-generation college students face. I remember very well what a privilege and honor it was for me to be able to attend college. I also remember very well how difficult it was in other ways. For example, I felt “different” than other students and wondered if I really had the ability to get good grades and graduate. Other common challenges include self-doubt, guilt, and feeling like an “imposter.” Some first generation students may feel out of place or like they don’t belong. I’ve already mentioned possible doubts about their academic abilities. It is also quite common for first-generation students to feel guilty about having the opportunity to attend college when their parents or other family members did not. Sometimes these students feel sufficiently guilty that they want to leave school and return home to work to help their families. It is also common for first-generation students to feel guilty or estranged because they believe that their college experience or having a college degree will make them different from their parents, families, and friends.
I want to acknowledge that if you are the parent of a first-generation student, you too may be facing some unique challenges. You may be unsure of what the college experience is like or how you can best support your student. I remember very vividly that my parents wanted to support me as a student, but did not know how to do so. Often first generation parents feel like they do not belong on campus, which is quite untrue. I want to encourage you to visit the University of Oregon campus if you have not already done so. In fact, please feel free to visit multiple times, in order to familiarize yourself with the University and to become acquainted with the support and resources that are available to your student. What you will find is that the University of Oregon is much more than just a place for students to attend classes. It’s full of individuals who care greatly about helping students succeed in every way. For example, there is the Office of Academic Advising, Academic Learning Services, the Office of Multicultural Academic Support, the Career Center, and the Counseling and Testing Center. These and other great services often go unused, especially by first-generation students. As you familiarize yourself more with the University of Oregon and its services, you will be better able to give your student the specific support that they might need.
It is through your support and guidance that your child was able to make it through high school and enter college. As you continue to support and encourage your student, they will feel more confident, more informed about campus resources, and hopefully discover a greater sense of belonging and community at the University. You can take great pride in knowing that your student’s accomplishments are also your shared accomplishments and legacy!
Brian Parks, PhD