What does being a first-generation student mean?

A formal definition of a first-generation college student is a student whose parent(s) did not complete a four-year college or university degree. However, at Marquette, we understand that this definition may not fully account for the rich diversity of first-generation college students. For example, your parent(s) could have some college experience but did not earn a degree from a four-year college or university. Your grandparents, aunts/uncles and siblings could also have degrees, and you would still qualify as first generation. Some first-generation students come from low-income households. Some are students of color, children of immigrant parents and others are working-class white students.

Despite the different backgrounds of first-generation college students, there is much more that you all may have in common. First-generation college students are often highly motivated and eager to excel in a college setting, but you may also encounter the following challenges:

  • You may feel the pressure to excel as the first in your family to make it to college.
  • You may find it difficult to relate to your peers who do not share the experience of being a first-generation college student.
  • You may have to learn the unspoken cultural norms and expectations of university life.
  • You may have to constantly explain the demands and rigors of college life to your friends and family.

(Adapted from Loyola University Chicago)