10 Tips for First-Generation College Students 

Being the first in your family to go to college is a wonderful and exciting opportunity, but it can also feel intimidating and overwhelming. To help you navigate the process, Gordon first-gen students Cecilia Gilbert ’24 (psychology) and Frankie Noguera ’26 (communication arts) offer their advice: 

1. Visit Campus 

Sometimes seeing is believing. Walking around a college campus and seeing the facilities, residence halls and classrooms for yourself will help you picture life as a student there. It will also help you understand where everything is, and you can directly talk to admissions staff, potential professors and current students about any questions you may have. “I went to several visit days for several colleges before making my decision,” Gilbert says. 

2. Understand Your Financial Aid Options 

The college tuition sticker price is not always a true reflection of what students actually pay. Many colleges offer scholarships and financial aid to bring your costs down significantly. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is your ticket to financial aid, so make sure you complete it. It can be tricky, but FAFSA puts out some great online resources to help. And if you’re stuck, reach out to the college’s financial aid office. “If you contact someone in their financial aid department directly, they might be able to put you on a payment plan or see if there’s a way to bring the cost down,” Gilbert says.  

3. Explore Campus Resources 

Many campuses, including Gordon, have programs designed to help first-gen students. Gordon’s Clarendon Scholars Program is a scholarship program for rising urban leaders (many of whom are first-gen) and provides them with a family-like cohort to support them throughout their college experience. “We’re our brothers’ keepers; our job is to hold each other accountable, to graduate together,” Noguera says. The Multicultural Initiatives Office at Gordon also has counselors and activities for students who come from diverse backgrounds to get advice and support for anything from scheduling classes to moral support in hard times. 

4. Embrace New Experiences 

One of the best things about college is that there are so many new things to try! From clubs on campus to research opportunities to internships, it’s the perfect time to figure out what you’re passionate about, academically and otherwise. “I’m part of the musicians of the Gospel Choir on campus,” Gilbert says. “I really love the people that I work with, and a lot of my friends are from there. We share a bond over this interest of ours in gospel music and worship.” Check out some things you’re already interested in, but also step outside your comfort zone a bit. You’d be surprised at what you might discover about yourself and what you like. Maybe you will even start your own club! 

5. Get a Job on Campus 

Your financial aid package might include work-study, which prioritizes you for on-campus employment. Whether you’re a work-study student or not, there are hundreds of on-campus jobs available to students. From dining services to the library to administrative roles, there’s something for everyone. Check out the on-campus job board or job fair, or ask your friends, classmates and professors for ideas. They may open the door for a cool job you didn’t even know existed. “I’m the Multicultural Initiatives Office and a Clarendon intern. I’ve worked for the Alumni Department. I’ve gotten to do a lot of really cool jobs,” Gilbert says. 

6. Ask for Help 

Transitioning to college isn’t easy for anyone, especially when you’re paving the way. It’s natural to feel scared or uncertain, but don’t let that stop you from asking others for help. “I come from a background where asking for help isn’t compatible with masculinity, but I wouldn’t have made it this far if I didn’t ask,” Noguera says. Reach out to your friends, resident directors, professors and others on campus. But don’t forget to call home too—just because you’re an adult in college doesn’t mean you can’t lean on your family. “Sometimes you just need a familiar voice and support for the rough days,” Gilbert says. 

7. Make Use of Office Hours 

College courses will challenge you more than high school classes. Fortunately, many college professors host office hours, where they intentionally set aside time for students to come and ask them questions about classes or coursework—or even just to get to know you personally. “I’m in awe of how much the faculty care. If you reach out to them, it doesn’t even have to be about their class. They can sometimes just be an objective listener who has the years and spiritual background to help. They care about you as an individual,” Gilbert says.   

8. Create Meaningful Connections 

While the main point of college is to get a degree, just as important are the relationships you will build. Colleges offer a unique chance to meet people from different locations, cultures and lifestyles who are the same age or have the same academic interests as you—or who are vastly different from you. It’s easy to seek friendships with those who are most like you, but don’t forget to develop good relationships with the staff and faculty. Those connections can open doors down the line for jobs and other opportunities. “I can just send an email and ask for a letter of recommendation from one of my professors, and they’ll do it right away,” Gilbert says. 

9. Lean on the Lord   

As a first-gen student you might feel pressure to perform well or wonder if you truly belong in a college setting. While these feelings are normal, it’s important to remember that they aren’t true. Your identity is not in your grades, friends or success, but in Christ. “My first year I had a big identity crisis,” says Noguera. “I didn’t think there were a lot of people just like me, and I didn’t really fit. Finally, I realized my identity had to be in Christ and not anything else. Once I leaned into that, I was able to rely on the Christian community here.” 

10. Start Your College Search with Gordon 

Now that you’ve learned some helpful tips for first-generation college students, apply them by exploring Gordon College. Here, career-focused academics blend with a life-giving faith community to help students like you thrive during their college careers. Contact one of our admissions counselors with any questions about financial aid, visiting campus and more—we’re happy to help you through this exciting new chapter in your life!