7 things to know before starting college as a first-generation student

October 28, 2021 · 5 min read · By ASU Online
Are you the first in your family to come to college? Get tips for success and learn about support services offered by ASU Online. 

First-generation college students, who represent the first people in their family to earn a higher education, are trailblazers in the truest sense of the word. At Arizona State University, about 40% of our undergraduate student population are first-generation college students, and we’re dedicated to making sure these individuals are prepared for success through our first-generation college student support programs.

To help get you started, we’re sharing seven things first-generation students need to know before embarking on an educational journey that could make you — and your family — quite proud.


7 things to know for first-generation student success

Here’s what you need to know to get the most out of your college experience and to stay on top of your responsibilities as a student.


1. Earning your degree online offers flexibility and a first-rate education.

Many first-generation students are balancing other obligations in addition to their studies. You may be wondering if you have to relocate or make regular trips to a local campus. Fortunately, going to school online can offer a convenient solution, and the modality of our online degree programs can give you the chance to be a student while balancing your other responsibilities. With ASU Online, you can earn the same degree taught by the same world-class faculty as our on-campus programs.


2. You can choose your own path to earning a bachelor’s degree.

If you’re the first in your family to go to college, you may think it’s a good idea to start out at a community college so you can find out what it’s like. Many people are successful with this approach: They get a taste of college, and develop successful habits as a student before transferring to a four-year university and completing their undergraduate education. If you do go this route, make sure you have a clear understanding of what you want to get out of school, and take the appropriate classes to set yourself up for success later.

On the other hand, many people find that going straight into a four-year college is the right path for them. They can reliably make long-term plans, and their peers help them keep going. If you’re considering which option to pursue, don’t be deterred from diving straight into a bachelor’s degree program. You won’t have to transfer credits, and you’ll have more time to develop relationships with your instructors and peers.


3. It’s important to pick your college carefully.

Your first priority should be to find a school that enables academic success. Do your research to learn what you can expect as a student in your desired discipline, major or focus area. This will help you ensure you benefit from an education you’re excited about. 

Prioritize schools that have demonstrated they know how to support first-generation college students. Also, make sure to look for an accredited school, meaning the school aligns with the standards set by an accrediting group.


4. Staying on top of your student finances is crucial.

Financial aid and budgeting are two of the most important things a first-generation college student needs to properly manage. A recent survey from the education firm EAB found that, as of April 2021, 11% of high school seniors on the road to being first-generation college students had yet to complete their FAFSA.

Don’t skip this crucial step toward earning your college degree, and stay tuned into developments regarding your financial aid package. Remember to research scholarship opportunities, including those specifically geared toward first-generation college students in your program.


5. The full college experience doesn’t stop with your coursework.

As a first-generation student, it’s important to make sure you have your eyes set on getting everything you can out of your education, including pursuing opportunities that help you apply what you’ve learned in class.

According to a report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, first-generation students accounted for a disproportionately high percentage of people who never participated in an internship. An internship can give you direct exposure to your chosen field as you build industry connections, improve your resume and more. The people you encounter through these opportunities may just write you a letter of recommendation in the future or offer you a referral.

As a college student, it’s also essential to connect with your peers and classmates, and ASU Online has a Facebook group and several clubs and organizations that allow students to connect regardless of location. Once you leave the structured academic environment of higher education, translating the knowledge and abilities you’ve developed into a career requires a strong network.


6. First-generation college student support programs are available.

If you’ve selected a school that understands how to support first-generation college students, it will likely have tailored services available to empower you to succeed. Find out what assistance your college provides, and use these opportunities to make sure you have all the support you need as a student and an individual. For example, ASU Online provides success coaching, tutoring, counseling and more to support you through graduation and beyond.


7. Build and maintain connections with your peers and professionals.

The journey you take to complete your degree requires commitment, a strong support system and time management

Maintain communication and build relationships with faculty and your fellow students as you move through the program. Don’t be afraid to seek new opportunities with your closest connections — whether that’s on campus, online or in the professional world.

First-generation college student support programs may offer valuable venues for networking. Check for student groups and professional organizations associated with your field of interest as well.


ASU Online supports first-generation college students

We are experienced with supporting first-generation college students. ASU Online offers a welcoming and engaging environment for all learners, and we’re dedicated to empowering first-generation students and helping them thrive. Learn more about ASU Online.  


About ASU Online

Earn your degree completely online from the nation's most innovative university. ASU Online offers more than 300 degree programs and certificates in high-demand areas such as nursing, engineering, business, education and more. Explore all of our areas of study.

Our offerings include:

  • Elite expertise and research.
  • Innovative curriculum design.
  • Superior student support services.

Learn more at our about us page. And follow ASU Online on Facebook, YouTube, X and Instagram, and connect with us on LinkedIn.

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