Young people in all socio-economic groups have college aspirations. In fact, eight out of 10 expect to attain a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to the U.S. Department of Education. But despite their aspirations, low-income students and those who are the first in their families to pursue higher education are severely underrepresented on college campuses. Studies show these students often lack the guidance they need to prepare for post-secondary education

Who are first-generation college students?

While there is no universal definition for "first-generation college student" and much of the research uses the definition "a student with neither parent having any education beyond high school," we choose to define a first-generation college student as "neither parent having received a four-year college degree. At Rutgers-New Brunswick we think of it more as any student who may self-identify as not having prior exposure to or knowledge of an experience like Rutgers and may find having resources to assist in the transition helpful. This could be because your parents attended college in a different educational system (in the USA or in another country), because the part of your family you have close contact with did not go to college, or many other reasons.

Why do these students struggle to access and complete college?

It is estimated that 30 percent of students enrolled in postsecondary institutions today are low income, first-generation college students. But 89% of these students will not earn a bachelor's degree six years out from high school. They drop out of college at four times the rate of their peers whose parents have a postsecondary education. There are myriad reasons that these students struggle to access and complete college. Namely, their parents lack the ability to guide them in the college process having not navigated it themselves and they are often in schools and communities where college counseling and college-minded peers are lacking or nonexistent. Academic preparation is sometimes another factor, but motivation to pursue college is not in question. Research shows that low-income, first-generation college students aspire to attend college at rates equal to their higher income peers whose parents have a college degree

What does the RU-1st Initiative Do?

RU-1st seeks to coordinate the support for first-generation students that occur on the New Brunswick campus at all of the undergraduate schools and departments with the aim to provide an opportunity to develop a sense of community for first-gen students at Rutgers-New Brunswick and help improve knowledge of and access to resources. We will answer questions and attempt to help you navigate the Rutgers New Brunswick campus so that you may successfully graduate.

What expenses will I encounter at Rutgers-New Brunswick?

To estimate your expenses you can start by utilizing the Net Price calculator at studentaid.rutgers.edu to get an understanding of expenses associated with attending Rutgers-New Brunswick.  Additional expenses you should consider are:You should be prepared to buy books in the first days of each semester. However, you don't have to do that at the bookstore; compare bookstore prices with what you can find online to get the best deal (searching the ISBN, the string of numbers by the UPC on the book, is the easiest way to find online).
Plan to have some extra money each time you travel to and from campus.
When you first arrive you will probably need some extra furniture or accessory items for your room, like lamps, cooking supplies if you're interested in that, rugs, hangers, bedding/blankets, towels, etc. It's great to wait and see what you need for your room when you actually get here, just plan to make a shopping trip after a few days (except for towels and sheets, if you like to shower and sleep, those you will want right away!).

What resources are available to help me succeed at Rutgers?

You can find resources at your school by visiting our partner page. Additionally, at Rutgers there are many services provided to support your academic success including the RU-1st Transition course, Learning Centers, Writing Centers, Byrne Seminars, FIGS, Cultural Centers, and so much more! See our partners page and contact the RU first liaison at your school.

How do I pick a major, find a job, or start to think about what to do after college?

Many students experience struggles related to picking a major, finding a job, and considering graduate school. Some first-generation college students find it confusing to know what they can do with a particular major, while others struggle with deciding on what their major should be. Sometimes parents have strong beliefs about the ‘usefulness’ of certain degrees. Fortunately, there are resources that can assist you with these and other questions, and prepare you for a job search or graduate application.
University Career Services provides resources to help explore your options including career counseling, resume review, and information on clusters. There are programs designed, such as the Annual H.U.G.S. event that connected historically underrepresented students with corporate employers who provide internship and employment opportunities. There are also academic advisors at the undergraduate schools for students to seek advise on issues including choosing a major.

How do first-generation students feel on campus? I am concerned how I will be different, and what it will be like to be the first in my family to complete college. What can I expect?

First-generation college students face all of the same struggles as their non-first- generation counterparts. However, there are some issues that are unique to this group. It is important for first-generation students to know that they are not alone, and that there are resources available for them.
First-generation students have a range of feelings about being the first in their family to attend and complete college. These feelings can include:
  • Excitement and Anxiety over being away from home at college, on their own, and the first in the family to attend college. These students may ask themselves, “Am I cut out to be a college student” and may believe that, despite their stellar academic performance in high school, they do not have what it takes to succeed at college.
  • Responsibility to help pay for their education, perhaps even more so than students of higher socioeconomic status backgrounds. In addition to financial responsibility, these students may be pressured by family and friends to return home often, and may receive mixed messages about their changing identities (e.g., wanting the student to succeed, but not wanting to be different from the rest of the family.)
  • Guilt and Shame about having the opportunity to attend college while others in the family had not been able or chosen to attend. There can also be shame around being different from one’s peers at school, when one’s peers have a long lineage of family members attending Rutgers University or who seem to know the ‘lingo’ when a first-generation student does not. These students may wonder if it is fair for them to be at school while their parents struggle financially at home, and may feel that they need to go home to support their families.
  • Embarrassment and Resentment over one’s socioeconomic status or the level of education in one’s family. First-generation students may try to act like their family is more ‘highly educated’ or financially well-off than they really are to conceal their differences. First-generation students may also be embarrassed or ashamed of their academic performance if it is not as good as they or their families would like. Finally, first-generation students may perceive resentment from members of their families or extended families about them being able to attend college.
  • Confusion over the entire college process, from application to graduation to job or graduate school searches. These students may not be aware of the resources available to them, or what kinds of careers are available for them to pursue.

Am I the only first generation college student at Rutgers-New Brunswick?

You are not alone! Rutgers University has historically served first-generation students through various federal and state grant programs such as the Educational Opportunity Fund and TRIO Programs such as Upward Bound, Student Support Services, and the Ronald E. McNair Program. You can learn more about these programs at access.rutgers.edu.

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What are some tips for Parents/Family Members of First-Generation Students?

  • Learn more about resources for parents and families at parents.rutgers.edu where you will find information about the Rutgers Parent and Family Association and Newsletter.
  • Attend Parent and Family Orientation to become knowledgeable about the resources/services available to your student since parent/family support is key to the academic success of college students.
  • Remind your students to make copies of all-important paperwork and to make sure to write down the name, department, date and comments of the person they are speaking to when they contact different units on campus with questions.
  • Remember that pursuing higher education does not mean that students will lose the values they were raised with.
  • Your student may not be able to come home every weekend if they are living on campus – even if it is only 5 or 10 miles away and if they are living at home, they may not have the same amount of time to devote to family responsibilities as they did before.
  • Be patient with yourselves and one another, especially since this is a learning experience for everyone (both you and your student) – you will all be learning about this transition process together!

What some of our current first-generation college students at wish their parents would know?

  • The pressure and stress that often comes with being in college.
  • To support me and try their best to understand what I am experiencing.
  • It is important for our parents to understand how hard college is and that the student will be under stress. The family should be supportive.
  • At times, students may feel overwhelmed and parents can be right there to support their children with words of encouragement. This goes a long way knowing that you believe in us!

What makes a successful Rutgers-New Brunswick student?

The path toward student success is a combination of academics, involvement, wellness, and spirituality. Successful students seek and utilize the many resources available to support their path toward graduation. Successful students also find healthy ways to manage their time, money and maintain their health and motivation for staying in school.