How to Determine If You’re a First-Generation College Student

When embarking on their college journey, many students find themselves pondering whether they qualify as first-generation college students. The concept of being a first-gen student holds significance in the college admissions process and can have a significant impact on one’s educational experience.

In this article, we will explore what it means to be a first-gen student and how colleges define this status.

What Defines a First-Generation College Student?

Defining first-generation college students can vary slightly among different colleges and universities. However, a general rule often applied is whether either of your parents has obtained a bachelor’s degree. If neither of your parents has completed a four-year degree, you are typically considered a first-gen student.

It’s important to note that some institutions expand the definition to include step-parents, legal guardians, or other family members. Therefore, it is advisable to check the specific policies of the colleges you are interested in to determine how they define first-generation status.

Degree Earned in the US: A Common Requirement

While the definition of first-gen may differ from one institution to another, many colleges limit their criteria to degrees earned within the United States. This means that if either of your parents earned their bachelor’s degree from an international university, you may not be considered a first-generation college student according to their specific guidelines.

To gain clarity on each college’s stance, it is crucial to research and familiarize yourself with their individual policies. Colleges often outline their definitions and eligibility criteria on their websites or admissions-related materials. By understanding how each institution interprets first-gen status, you can make informed decisions throughout the college application process.

The Significance of Being First-Generation

Being a first-generation college student brings a unique set of challenges and opportunities. These experiences can shape your college journey and have long-lasting effects on your personal and academic growth. Here are some important points to consider:

How to Determine If You’re a First-Generation College Student

1. Access to Resources and Support

First-gen students may face a lack of pre-existing knowledge and guidance from family members who are unfamiliar with the college application and enrollment processes. As a result, accessing resources and support on campus becomes crucial. Many colleges offer dedicated programs, mentoring initiatives, and specialized advising services specifically tailored to support first-gen students.

These resources aim to bridge the informational gap and provide the necessary guidance to navigate higher education successfully.

2. Sense of Belonging and Community

For first-generation college students, building a sense of belonging and finding a community that understands their unique experiences can be vital to their success. Colleges often establish student organizations, clubs, and support networks specifically for first-gen students, creating spaces where they can connect, share experiences, and seek support from peers who understand the challenges they face.

Being part of a community that shares similar backgrounds and aspirations can significantly enhance a first-gen student’s college experience.

3. Empowerment and Breaking Barriers

First-generation college students often break through barriers and pave the way for future generations in their families. By pursuing higher education, these students not only enhance their own opportunities but also inspire their siblings, relatives, and community members.

Becoming a first-generation college student can be a transformative experience that empowers individuals to embrace new possibilities and challenge societal norms.

Also check out: Do Tardies, Unexcused Absences, and Detentions Affect College Applications?


Navigating the complexities of college admission as a first-generation student can be both exciting and challenging. Understanding how colleges define first-generation status is an important step in this process. Remember to research individual college guidelines regarding first-gen eligibility, utilize the available support and resources, and embrace the unique journey of being a trailblazer in your family. By doing so, you can make the most of your college experience and create a foundation for future success.

*Remember, being a first-generation college student is a badge of honor. Embrace your journey and let your accomplishments inspire others!

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