Struggles that First-Generation University Students Often Face
Often the struggles of first-generation university students slip under the radar because they have had little access to the know-how and university lingo that seem built-into the continuing-generation university students’ artillery. A formerly ambitious and high-achieving secondary school student is now entrenched in unfamiliar and novel territory that is university life. Although more universities continue to break down barriers, attract, and enroll more first-generation students, the obstacles to success are still substantial.
Lack of Knowledge of Existing University Resources
Learning about different schools, scholarships, mentors, financial aid, and subjects to study is often an independent trek for both continuing generation and first generation students. However, a study done by Southampton University showed that continuing generation students relied on their parents for advice with regard to their choice of academic institution and often attended numerous institutions’ open days. On the other hand, first-generation students relied heavily on university websites and league tables. Support came predominantly from their secondary school’s career advisors. Furthermore, continuing generation students’ career aspirations tended to be clearer and assertive while first-generation students were less confident about which direction they wanted to take. Given that first-generation students tended to come from lower-income backgrounds, the variety of jobs that they were exposed to were different from that of continuing-generation students. Careers like Law, Dentistry, Medicine, and Chemistry often seemed out of reach.
While at university, many students- first-generation and continuing education students- failed to take advantage of the career services offered because they seemed irrelevant, unavailable, or students did not know how to access them. Just familiarising yourself with the university resources available will alleviate a lot of the stress and uncertainty.
Finances & Social Life
First-generation students are likely to juggle full-time jobs with part-time studies. More frequently, first-generation students took on multiple part-time jobs alongside full-time studies. They are more likely to spend more time working than continuing generation students which can impact their academics.
Having a social life can cost a lot of money- whether it is going to a pub with your friends, eating brunch on a Sunday, or staying out late at parties. Not being able to afford a social life means that many first-generation students feel left out from the stereotypical college experience.
Guilt & Insufficient Support from Home
While for most first-generation students attending university is a source of pride, it can also be a source of guilt. Many continuing generation students pointed out that going to university was a natural thing to do and inevitable, some first-generation college students noted that they felt like the black sheep of their families and that they were abandoning their families. This shame and confusion often comes from shifting family dynamics.
The feeling that they were simply not ‘made’ for university is difficult to shake off, especially when enduring a grueling exam schedule, overwhelming work responsibilities, and family stress. It is very easy to be overwhelmed by university life. A lot of first-generation students’ parents do not realize that attending university is a whole different ballpark from secondary school. Often, on paper, it appears as if a student has an abundance of freetime in comparison to the 8.30am to 3.30pm hours of secondary school. However, extracurricular activities, independent and group study, and a more rigorous academic course load mean that a student tackling university deserves applause and empathy. First-generation students should give themselves a break and reflect on their strengths, journey, and well-being.
It is absolutely normal to fluctuate through ups and downs of university life. Taking care of your mental health is essential. You deserve a round of applause!
Review what your university is doing with regard to first-generation university student experiences at www.schoolparrot.co.uk