College is a time of change for any incoming freshmen. But it marks the beginning of the marathon that is life. It’s important to remember that we don’t all start at the same square. First generation college students are students who will be the first in their immediate family to obtain a bachelor degree. face many more challenges around preparedness, access and overall success. Here are the top struggles first generation college students face and some ways to help ensure your students can put their best foot forward

Technology access issues create barriers to academic success.

In 2014, 24% of students were both first generation and low income students. This means that they may not have a nice computer or access to a viable internet connection at home. So, without the ability to study and prep from home these students will spend time at local libraries or the school resource centers to make the most of their time. 

What we can do about it: Peer Forward has comprised a list of helpful resources that can enable students to apply for scholarships, write better college essays, and help students save money. In addition, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has partnered with Peer Forward to provide training for college administrators on ways they can help first generation students.

Access issues lead to lower preparedness in first generation college students. 

High percentages of first generation students are from low-income families and attend lower performing PreK-12 schools (Hudley et al., 2009). Lower performing schools tend to not have as many students on the advanced placement track. Here, access plays a direct role as lower performing schools tend to have fewer students successfully graduate college. 

What we can do about it: Connect with local high schools about creating a network for students that want to succeed in college. Research shows that students with peers who share their same academic goals are more likely to achieve them (Hudley et al., 2009). This can help students find the right track to be ready for college success.

Financial Strain

With so many of our students both first generation and low income, financial strain hurts their chances of success. Will a student take that extra class this semester if their scholarship won’t cover it? Will they participate in a club or activity if there is an upfront fee? Financial barriers can add distance to the race for our students and hit our first generation students disproportionately. 

What we can do about it: Continue to share programs that enable students to free aid. 2.2 million low-income students never file their FAFSA form, which is required to receive needs-based assistance. Connect students with opportunities for grants and scholarships through programs. For example, take Kaleidoscope, which enables students to easily find and apply.

College is the beginning of a race that lasts the rest of our lives. While we may not be able to start at the same spot, we can help our students always put their best foot forward. Whether you are working with first generation college students, low-income students, or both, these tips can change the game. However, by providing better access to technology, easing financial strain, and helping drive better preparedness, we’ll realize that where we come from isn’t as important as where we’re going.