Advice for Parents of First-Generation Students

By RJ Vega 

Parents are often our first and most consistent teachers. They teach us how to eat. How to walk. How to ride a bike or throw a baseball. They impart wisdom about life, love, responsibility, accountability, and respect.

For the parent of a first-generation college student, this presents an interesting challenge.  A first-generation college student is a student whose parents did not complete a college education.  Perhaps they attended for a short time, or maybe they didn’t have the opportunity to go to college at all. Regardless, the challenge remains the same: how does one prepare their child for an experience they themselves may not have had?

As someone who works with students every day, and a former first-generation college student myself, here are a few tips I’ve observed either from my parents or in working with other parents with regard to getting to, and paying for, college.

Listen and learn about your child’s plans for college

Have that conversation somewhere comfortable and with minimal distractions. Listen, without judgment, to what your child’s plans are for college. Sophomore or junior year of high school is a great time to have this initial conversation. Sometimes it may take some prodding to get an honest answer, but if you don’t already know, try to find the answers to these three questions:

  1. What is my child interested in studying?
  2. What kind of college is my child interested in attending?
  3. Is my child on track academically to make those plans a reality?

Express your support. Share your perspective

Judgment can be a major limiting factor between parent and child. Even if you are opposed to whatever your child says right now, know that many students will change their majors once in college, as their eyes get opened to new majors and careers. However, if you express judgment early on in this process, you may risk having your child no longer feel they can be honest with you about their plans. Never underestimate the value of verbalizing your support. Sure, you may think your child knows you have their back, but to hear it out loud again is a powerful thing. Also, share your thoughts and perspective in a non-judgmental way. Your insight is of great value.

Seek out information, the earlier the better

You don’t have to be born knowing all the answers to everything college-related. Some of the words, or the many acronyms, may be confusing to you, and that is okay. You do, however, need to seek out the answers you need. Use your resources. Reach out to your school counselor if you’re feeling disconnected academically from how your child is progressing through high school. Reach out to EducationQuest for free assistance with college planning and preparation. Take a proactive approach to learning about the college process, and what is expected of you, as a parent.

Take a look at the financial situation at home

Take a realistic view of your financial situation. Do you have a college savings plan, such as the NEST 529 Plan, set up for your child? Or is money pretty tight right now and there isn’t very much saved for college? Determine how much you are willing and able to contribute financially to your child’s upcoming college experience.  If you are concerned with paying for college, talk to EducationQuest to learn more about the scholarship and financial aid processes.

Accept that college will change the family dynamic

Your child is preparing for the next chapter in life. Your child will experience new things, meet new people, and will grow one step closer to becoming the adults they are meant to be. This means, at times, they may not be as available as they have been before; a cousin’s birthday party, or a family get-together, may conflict with homework and an upcoming test. Try to be flexible, and understanding, of the workload that comes with college. Celebrate your victory in preparing them for college. The most empowering parents are the ones who have given their child wings to fly, and a nest to come home to when it is time to rest.

Any other words of wisdom, parents?

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