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First-Generation College Student Myths

Raul Alvarez of College Greenlight Debunks Common Misinformation


Every first-time college student has a lot to learn. But if you are among the first in your family to go to college, it can be especially intimidating. From choosing the right college, to finding the money to pay for it, there is a lot of work to do. But with so much going on, it can be easy to buy into popular myths about college. Here are some of the most common college myths we've encountered, and why they aren't true.

MYTH: I'm Not Selective College Material

First-generation students frequently sell themselves short. They think that because they don't have a family academic history, that they won't fit into the best colleges in the country. Because of this myth, many amazing students undermatch.

What is undermatching, you ask? It's when a student chooses a college that isn't challenging enough for them. If you are a straight-A student with strong test scores, you should seek out a college that is going to have a high concentration of students with your academic skills.

Many first-generation students don't give themselves enough credit for their strengths. They might choose a lower-tier college because it's closer to home or because they are uncomfortable considering themselves highly selective college material. By second guessing their abilities, these students are risking a college experience that isn't engaging.

Furthermore, studies show that students who undermatch are much more likely to drop out of their college early. By choosing a college that is appropriately challenging, you are giving yourself a better chance for success.

MYTH: I Can't Afford College, so I'll Have to Take Out Loans

As a first-generation student, the cost of college can seem overwhelming. But there are plenty of ways you can cover these costs without going into debt. Instead of taking out loans, you should seek out as much money that doesn't need to be paid back as possible. These types of funds include scholarships, merit aid, and grants.

There are billions of dollars of scholarships available to students every year. Many of these scholarships are specifically crafted for first-generation students. By filling out a free profile on College Greenlight, you can access our scholarship database that ranks each scholarship according to your strengths, background, and interests. Importantly, many highly selective private colleges will be less expensive than less selective/public colleges because they are more likely to meet 100% of financial need for qualified students.

Furthermore, simply by filling out a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), you can see if you qualify for a federal grant. Like scholarships, grant money that is given to you does not have to be paid back.

MYTH: As a First-Generation Student I'll Have to Search for College all by Myself

As a first-generation student, the journey to college can feel isolating. You're the first person in your family to undertake this new process, and it can seem like there is no one you can talk with about your questions and concerns.

But thankfully, that is completely not true. Sure, your family might not know when the FAFSA is due or where the bursar's office is located on campus, but you can still count on them to give you great advice. By allowing your family to participate in your college search, you can combat your feelings of isolation while making them a part of the process.

There are also other many fantastic places dedicated to helping first generation students. Consider joining a local community organization that mentors students to and through college. Your middle or high school guidance counselor will know what programs to put you in contact with. Furthermore, your guidance counselor can be a huge help as well. There are college and scholarship experts who can answer some of the technical college questions your parents can't.

Finally, consider checking out College Greenlight. We are a college and scholarship search site specifically built for first-generation and underrepresented students, and we have a whole host of tools to help you on your journey to and through college including an enormous scholarship database and extensive profiles of nearly every college in the country.

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