Point of View of a First-Generation Student

Posted by Rebecca Poulsen on Nov 16, 2020 12:18:40 PM
Rebecca Poulsen

Person reading a book in a library

Do you enjoy podcasts? We recently listened to one that we think you'll thoroughly enjoy.

An NPR podcast called Hidden Brain has some incredible content about world events and psychology. We recently listened to a podcast called Between Two Worlds, and we wanted to discuss the interview.

You can listen to the podcast here.

Let’s break it down:

What’s the Podcast about?

Many people often strive for the American Dream: starting from the bottom and climbing the ladder by working hard. But what many people don't realize about the American Dream is that it comes at a cost.

Many people striving for the American Dream often come from low-income households or first-generation college students. These students must give up where they grew up and leave their families behind to pursue their college careers.

This podcast discusses how first-generation students balance school and family life. It’s common for students from first-generation or lower-income families to struggle with their identity as students and sons/daughters/siblings. 

For these students, college is an entirely new world, and it can be hard to translate that experience back to family members. These students' families often depend on their children attending college and need them to send money home. This means that these students struggle to balance their school life, work-life, and social life even more so than many students that aren’t first-generation students. 

Person working on a laptop

Choosing between making a paycheck to help out their family and studying for a final exam is a common choice for first-generation students. They often feel pulled in two different ways, stressed about completing both tasks, but not having the capacity to do so.

These students often feel polarized in their current living situation and the one they grew up in. Some of their cultural norms are being replaced by new standards they are learning during college. As they try to adopt a new culture and societal expectations, they often feel like they are losing a part of their identity. They feel disconnected from their home culture and family members. 

This Hidden Brain episode sheds much-needed light on the lives of low-income and first-generation students. School administrations can learn a lot from this episode about their students, and we have a few suggestions too on how to help these students succeed:

Get to know the students

Taking time to understand your students can do wonders for them. Ask them questions like:

  • Do they have jobs? How many? Where do they work?
  • Do they have family abroad that may be difficult to visit?
  • How long has it been since they’ve seen their family?
  • What traditions did they grow up with that they miss?

If a student knows they have support within their school, it could make all the difference in their college experience. Often these students feel lonely and misplaced, so having someone to talk to about their home life can be a huge relief. 

Offer additional help & resources

Person offering tutoring advice on a whiteboardAs a first-generation student, many of them may not know about additional resources the school offers. Things like scholarships, tutoring, research help, clubs, campus activities, and so on may not be on the student’s radar. Never make assumptions about what these students know what the school offers. More often than not, they are unaware of all the resources available to them.


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