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First at WSU

Define First-Generation Students

Gray scale Head shot Photos of First Scholars


If your parent or legal guardian did not complete a bachelor's degree, then you and any siblings you have are considered first-generation college students.

First Gen Facts:

We know that college success, especially for first-generation college students, is not solely determined by the ability to earn high grades or test scores. Instead, there are non-cognitive factors (skills determined by an individual's personality) that may have a stronger influence upon a student's ability to succeed. When we work with first-generation college students, we use an approach that is designed to support and address factors such as the student's personal or social beliefs, motivations, attitudes, maturity level, commitment to goals, and the ability to engage socially with others. 

We also know that first-generation students may not have the insider knowledge and the interpersonal relationships that give others an advantage to knowing how the college system works in terms of preparedness and expectations.

First-generation college students sometimes face the following obstacles when attending college:

  • Limited access to information about the college experience, either firsthand or from relatives.
  • Lack of knowledge about time management, college finances, budgeting and the bureaucratic operations of higher education.
  • Absence of support from, or a cultural conflict between the home and college communities.
  • Susceptibility to doubts about academic abilities.
  • Perception that they are “not college material” and thus have decreased motivation to try.
    Struggle to maintain a balance between work, family and school responsibilities.
  • Additionally, first-gen students often feel isolated at college. They report limited support from parents, university faculty, staff and peers.

To help ensure first-generation college students have access to the resources needed to succeed at WSU, we provide: 

  • Awareness and Knowledge
  • Access and Connections
  • Engagement and Community
  • Expertise and Guidance
  • Confidence and Opportunity
  • Expanded Experiences and Perspectives
  • Resources and Networks
  • Strengths and Skills Development

With this support, first-generation students are empowered to reach their potential, build a solid foundation for graduation, and lead a fulfilled life of self-awareness, personal success, and significance.

How Faculty and Staff can support first-gen Cougs:

Understand what “first gen” means.

We define first-gen students as those whose parents or guardians have not earned a bachelor’s degree. Review the First Forward Fact sheets to learn more about demographics of first-gen students, utilization of services and post-education outcomes.

Share if you were a first-gen student.

Students may feel more comfortable talking to you, knowing that you have been in a similar situation. Mention your first-gen status in your email signature, in your syllabus, or post it in your office. 

Review your course and office materials.

Look for acronyms, institutional jargon, or “short cuts” when describing the physical surrounding or buildings, requirements, or other university administrative processes. Phrases and words that are familiar to us may be particularly confusing for our first-gen students. Examples of WSU’s terminology can be found here.

Be clear and consistent with expectations.

Share the expected amount of time and effort required to do well and remind students of deadlines throughout the semester. For individual assignments and tasks, describe any consequences which may occur if expectations are not met.

Promote your office hours and accommodate student appointments.

Clearly state the ways students can use office hours, such as discussing assignment instructions, reviewing grades, or prepping for an exam. Frequent invitations to use your office hours or request time help normalize the use of these services.

Familiarize yourself with campus resources and colleagues.

Students may not be aware of resources like tutoring, health services, counseling, libraries, computer labs, etc. Remind students that utilizing these resources is part of the college experience. Referring students to a specific contact person increases their chances of reaching out.

Encourage students to get involved.

Student organizations, campus recreation, or other extra-curricular activities may help them build a social support network.

Know the signs of a student in distress and how to respond.

Faculty and staff are often able to recognize when a student is struggling, but it can be hard to know what to say or do. Our campus-specific ““Helping Students In Distress”” guides outline common scenarios and how to respond, refer, and report when needed.