Five Tips for First-Generation Hopefuls to Discuss College Plans with Their Parents


According to USA Today, about 24 percent of entering freshman in U.S. colleges and universities are low-income, first-generation college students—that is, those students from low-income homes who are the first person in their family to attend a four-year institution in order to attain a bachelor’s degree. But over a quarter of them will leave college after their first year, which is four times the drop-out rate for higher-income, second-generation students, and 89 percent won’t finish within six years.

These are troubling numbers, especially since we know many first-generation students are high-achieving students prior to college.

Most parents want what’s best for their children, but often those who did not attend college themselves unwittingly create barriers when it comes to college access and success. These can be due to cultural differences, language, values, or simple misunderstanding. And some parents might just be hesitant to encourage their children to pursue a goal they aren’t sure is realistic.

That’s why it’s important for high-achieving, low-income students who may be the first in their family to attend college to understand ways to discuss their future plans with their parent or parents.

Here are five tips to help foster such a conversation:

    1. Do your research.

Trying to help your family understand your ambitions is much easier if you have clear goals and can help them visualize your path. This is your chance to define success on your own terms, and being able to be somewhat specific about your plans makes them seem far more attainable.

    2. Arrange a meeting with your parent(s) and your guidance counselor or other trusted adult.

If you find it difficult to discuss college issues with your parent or parents, having an advocate to help convey your goals and concerns can help tremendously. Moreover, parents who have not attended college often find themselves overwhelmed by information provided in group settings. That’s why an informal discussion with a guidance counselor or other staff member at your school can help alleviate some anxiety they may be facing. And remember that many schools have bilingual staff to assist parents who are non-native speakers.

    3. Discuss your concerns a little bit at a time.

If you find yourself intimidated by the college application process, remember that your parent or parents don’t have experience with it either. It’s best for everyone to take things slowly so it doesn’t become overwhelming. And that means starting the conversation early.

    4. Give them opportunities to participate.

Once your parent or parents begin to understand your plans, they’re more likely to be supportive if they can become directly involved. Share all new information with them, keep them updated, and ask for their advice.

    5. Whatever happens, make sure the conversation takes place and keep it going.

It’s essential that you discuss these issues with your parent or parents, especially because you’re a first-generation student. The earlier the better; keep in mind that it may take several tries before your parent or parents understand and fully appreciate what it is you are trying to do and why it is important to you.