First Generation Students

As a student arriving on a college campus for the first time, the experience can be one of excitement, anxiety, hopefulness and challenge. For some, the challenges may seem overwhelming and go beyond the worry of learning their way around campus, getting along with their roommate, and managing the academic demands. First generation student is a term that refers to any student who is the first in their family to pursue a four year degree and these students often face some unique challenges.

FINANCIAL: If a student is the first in the family to attend a four year institution, it may be more likely that the family has not planned financially for this experience. Students may be faced with taking out a loan or figuring out the financial aid process on their own. Once on campus, they may need to seek employment to earn money to engage in campus and social life or perhaps to support parents, siblings, and children. This is a burden that can impact their college experience in many ways.

ACADEMICS: The most academically prepared students often face a big adjustment accommodating to the demands placed on students at college. Students who struggle academically in college, perhaps for the first time, may find that their confidence and self esteem suffers. If family members have attended college, it is likely that they have engaged in conversation with their student about the academic challenges that lie ahead. First generation students are less likely to anticipate this change and feel overwhelmed and alone.

FAMILY: First generation students not only experience the pressure they put on themselves to succeed, but may be very aware of family expectations. Students may be fearful of disappointing their family and feel the strain to maintain connection with family while also trying to immerse themselves in all aspects of college life.

EMOTIONAL WELLNESS: First generation students are likely to struggle with the same mental health challenges as non-first-generation students, but may have additional stressors to manage, more responsibilities, and may be less likely to reach out for support. Additionally, first gen students may experience feelings of “the imposter syndrome”, a pattern of doubting their accomplishments, feeling like a “fraud”, and feeling as if they do not belong in their environment. If students have difficulty building a sense of belonging and connection on campus, this may leave students isolated and lonely.


The University Counseling Center recognizes the unique challenges that first generation students may experience. We also recognize the strengths that got you to ND; resilience, motivation, self-efficacy, independence and tenacity will help you to adjust and create your own college experience. We at the UCC are dedicated to celebrating each first generation student’s unique background and story, highlighting your strengths and accomplishments, overcoming barriers together, enhancing your sense of connection and belonging on campus, and building your belief in yourself and your capabilities. We are here to listen, support you, and problem solve with you, as well as direct you to additional campus resources if needed. Please see below for campus and national resources to refer to as you navigate your college journey.

Campus Resources

Office of Student Enrichment The Office of Student Enrichment helps to acclimate and adjust students to a collegiate environment, and aims to promote an environment of economic inclusivity that empowers students to thrive within the Notre Dame community.

Care and Wellness Consultants The Care and Wellness Consultants assist with problem solving and help to connect students to resources that support their ability to succeed. We typically connect with an individual student, help them to identify their greatest areas of concern, refer them to resources, and follow-up with ongoing support.

National Resources

Mental Health Resources

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