2022 First Generation College Student Statistics – Bankrate.com | Vette Leader

First-generation students are those whose parents did not have college degrees. They are often the first in their families to ever set foot on campus as students. Because of this, they have little to no guidance when it comes to things like college admissions, financial aid, and college assignments, making it harder for them to achieve post-secondary success. However, the college is still worth attending; a college degree opens the door to more jobs and higher incomes over time.

  • One-third of all college students in the US are first-generation students.
  • About 60 percent of first-generation students were also the first siblings in their families to enter college in the 2015-16 academic year.
  • The median age of first-generation college students is 23, while more than a third of them are over 30 years old.
  • Only 21 percent of Gen Z students are first-generation students.
  • First-generation students are more likely to attend public two-year institutions than their peers and account for nearly two-thirds of all students enrolled in these institutions. In 2015-16, first-generation students also made up 72 percent of the total student body at private, four-year, for-profit institutions.
  • Most first-generation students attend college part-time.
  • Sixty-six percent of first-generation students worked while they were in school in 2015-16, compared to 61 percent of succeeding-generation students.
  • It is estimated that 30 percent of first-generation students had dependents while they were in college in 2015-16, versus 16 percent of succeeding-generation students.
  • Only 27 percent of first-generation students complete college within four years.
  • Economics, social sciences and behavioral sciences are among the most popular fields of study among first-generation students.
  • Less than half of first-generation graduates have a job that requires a bachelor’s degree a year after leaving school.
  • The median household income of a first-generation college graduate is $99,600, compared to $135,800 for next-generation graduate households.

According to the Center for First-Generation Student Success, a first-generation student is someone whose parents didn’t earn a four-year college or university degree — even if other family members did.

However, the definition may vary from one institution to the next. For example, some colleges may consider you a continuing-generation student (aka not the first in your family to go to college) if either of your parents attended a post-secondary institution, regardless of whether they actually graduated.

While these distinctions may not seem like a big deal, they are. Being a first generation student means you may have access to additional tools and resources to help you succeed that are not available to other students. That’s why it’s so important to check with your admissions office to see if you fall into this category and if you qualify for these unique opportunities.

First-generation college students face a unique set of challenges, including balancing multiple identities, holding one or more jobs, and managing family commitments—all while seeking an education to further their careers.

But Sarah Whitley, vice president of the Center for First-Generation Student Success, says the biggest barrier first-generation students face to a successful college experience is their lack of understanding of how higher education works as a whole.

“Institutions can be such complex bureaucratic and jargon-filled entities that it can be difficult for first-generation students to access the support and resources essential to their success,” says Whitley. “First-generation students are often academically prepared and very talented — they just sometimes lack the information and resources they need to choose the best institution for them, understand the admissions and financial aid process, and know the right questions to ask which they can put the way.”

First-generation students come from a variety of backgrounds, with a majority identifying as white, Hispanic/Latino, or black/African American, according to the Center for First-Generation Student Success. This distribution is similar to that of students of the next generation. Furthermore, as with the ongoing generation students, the first-generation sector is predominantly female, with only 40 percent of first-generation students identifying as male.

While there isn’t much information on age distribution, we do know that first-generation students tend to be older than their peers — the Postsecondary National Policy Institute found that first-generation students have an average age of 23, compared to 21 for those whose parents have at least a bachelor’s degree.

A data analysis published by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation found that households headed by high school graduates earn about 31 percent less per year than those with an associate degree and 56 percent less than those with a bachelor’s or have another advanced degree. In other words, there is a significant wealth gap between the households of first- and next-generation students, which could make the transition to college more difficult for first-generation students.

educational level of the head of household Median household income (2020)
Bachelor degree or higher $106,936
Associate’s degree $68,769
Some colleges $60,392
high-school diploma $47,405
Any high school $29,520
Less than 9th grade $29,609

Source: Peter G. Peterson Foundation

Having parents who went to college increases the likelihood of graduating from college because students are better prepared to navigate our complex higher education system. In fact, among adults whose parents did not have college experience, only 20 percent have graduated, compared to 60 percent of those where at least one parent had a bachelor’s degree.

When it comes to borrowing money to pay for college, first-generation students tend to borrow more than their peers with college-educated parents — but not by much. The Pew Research Center estimates that 65 percent of first-generation students owe at least $25,000 in student loans, compared to 57 percent of next-generation students.

A study by the Pew Research Center found that even after graduation, there is often a wealth gap between first-generation and next-generation students. The median household income for graduates with at least one college-educated parent was $135,800 in 2019, compared with $99,600 for grads whose parents were not in college — a difference of 36 percent.

But while first-generation graduates lack that economic advantage known as “parental bonus,” which puts them in a better position to build wealth, they get a bigger pay boost from their degrees, according to the Federal Reserve.

Although the road to college as a first-generation student can be more difficult than that of students who have someone to guide them through the process, Whitley says there are three things you can do to have a more successful college experience.

Embrace your first generation identity

Many first-generation students keep their status to themselves — sometimes out of fear of acceptance — which in turn keeps them from taking advantage of the unique opportunities presented to them.

“Embracing this part of your identity can open doors to experiences and resources, so don’t keep it a secret,” says Whitley. “It’s important to identify yourself as a first-generation employee during the admissions experience so resources and opportunities can be opened up to you. There are many institutions with dedicated first-generation resources — over 275 have the Center’s first-gen forward designation — and it’s important to look for these options when purchasing colleges.”

Don’t be afraid to ask questions

One of the biggest barriers for first-generation college students is their lack of knowledge about how college works. That’s why it’s so important to ask questions and get help if you ever need it.

“Many campuses offer support and resources for first-generation students like TRIO. Some of these are standalone and some are built into offerings for other intersectional identities,” says Whitley. “There are also learning and writing centers, counselors, tutors, and academic success initiatives that every student has access to and most of which are free.”

Find a mentor in your community

One of the best things about college is that you meet a very diverse group of people – including other first generation students – who you can connect with and guide based on their own experiences.

In addition, Whitley points out that many professors and other staff publicly identify themselves as first-generation members and are usually happy to share with others with similar experiences. She says finding someone on the faculty or staff to serve as a resource and mentor is one of the best ways first-generation students report being more successful in college, so it’s worth doing to attempt.

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