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13 tips every first-gen college student should know

Are you the first in your family to attend college? If neither of your parents went to a four-year college or university — congratulations, you’re a first-generation college student! First-gen students can experience unique challenges applying, enrolling and succeeding in college – let’s make sure you are prepared. Here are 13 things every first-gen student should know about making a smooth transition from high school to college.

At Central Michigan University, your success is our goal. We even have a office dedicated to it! Check out the resources available through the Office of Student Success.

Visit Office of Student Success

Applying to college

1. Get started early

It’s never too early to start researching colleges, scholarships and programs for first-gen students. Talk to your high school’s guidance or college counselor, participate in college visit days, and check out web sites for first-generation college students.

2. Research colleges with first-gen programs 

Hundreds of colleges and universities offer special programs for first-gen students. Visit the websites of colleges you’re interested in and use the search function to find information on the first-gen student programs and services they offer. 

3. Talk to college admission professionals

The admissions process can be very different from one university to another, and applications can range from very simple to very complex. Call the admissions office at your school of choice and request a meeting to discuss the application process.

4. Make an appointment with a financial aid advisor

Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is an important step in applying for scholarships, grants and loans, and it can be confusing to understand. Most schools offer in-person or virtual appointments to talk to a financial aid advisor for help with the FAFSA and other financial aid questions. Your high school guidance counselor may also have resources to share.

5. Make a budget 

College can be expensive. In addition to paying tuition and fees, you’ll also need to budget for housing and food, books, class supplies, and more. There are numerous tools to help you create and manage a budget for college, and many schools also offer financial planning workshops. 


6. Visit campus

One of the best ways to get a feel for life on a college campus is to see it for yourself! Contact the admissions office to schedule a tour, and take advantage of the opportunity to ask questions about programs for first-gen students.

7. Attend orientation 

Once you’ve selected the college or university you want to attend, make sure to sign up for new student orientation. In addition to meeting with an academic advisor and scheduling classes, you’ll have the chance to learn more about campus activities, services and programs. Read more about college orientation in this blog post!

8. Follow on social media 

Most colleges and universities have social media channels on every major platform – some even have channels dedicated to what’s happening on campus each day! Be sure to follow your chosen school’s official social media accounts so you’re up to speed on big events, campus traditions and more. 

Thriving on campus

9. Join first-generation student organizations

Surround yourself with people who want to see you succeed! Join a first-gen club or mentoring program to find friends who share your experience and supporters who will cheer you on.

10. Get involved in campus life

In addition to first gen organizations, there are usually hundreds of student groups and clubs on a college campus. You can choose from clubs focused on sports, theater, art, language and culture, games, social justice, volunteerism and even professional networking. Students who get involved in campus life are more likely to feel like they belong at college, and they’re more likely to get good grades!

11. Know that the struggle is real

College is stressful. You’ll be in a new environment surrounded by new people, and facing new challenges. Sometimes you feel stressed out, anxious and overwhelmed – and it’s completely normal to feel that way! Know that you are not alone and that there are people and services that can help you manage your metal health and stay on the path to graduation.

12. Ask for help when you need it

Take advantage of the student supports offered by your college or university, such as tutoring programs, academic advising, counseling services, study groups, resource centers and success coaches. Remember that you are not alone on this journey!

13. Believe in yourself

You can do this! College is challenging, but you’ve got the knowledge, skills and abilities to succeed.



You’ve got an exciting journey ahead of you, first-gen student. Visit CMU’s Division of Student Affairs webpage to learn more about the programs, services and supports available to help you succeed. 

Blog: All Things Higher Ed posted | Last Modified: | Author: by University Communications | Categories: University Communications
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