First-generation 101: the what, why, and how

Four students gather in front of the Administration Building at Colorado State as the sun shines down onto campus.

In this student blog, first-generation student Jennifer Gutierrez breaks down what it means to be a first-generation college student at Colorado State.

What exactly is a first-generation student?

There are various identities and backgrounds that make up the population of first-generation students here at Colorado State University. However, there is one common ground for all first-generation students, and that is that  “neither parent has completed a bachelor’s degree or higher.” It is crucial to recognize that although students who identify as such may check that box off on our admissions application, it does not mean a completely different application, but rather a different journey associated with the entire admissions process.

Why does this identity matter?

First-generation students often encounter more issues than others would, typically related to guidance on what to consider when looking at schools or guidance about the college journey in general. It’s difficult to understand how to access and complete an application that asks endless information about not only yourself but your parents, and that can often leave you a little worried, hesitant, or overwhelmed. Some students struggle with understanding how to obtain test scores, transcripts or other materials, understanding questions on financial aid documents, or, the one I find to be most common, how to choose what to write about in a personal essay.

How is the college admissions process different for first-generation students?

There are so many challenges that come with being a first-generation student, and they extend well beyond just the application process. Once you’re accepted, where do you even begin? Do you just complete admitted student tasks, and where can you even find those? Who do you let know whether you plan to attend or not? What classes do you have to take? How do you find your place at CSU once you get here? First-generation students can encounter different struggles throughout the admissions process, some that are unique to being first-generation and some that are unique to your own personal experience. No one’s journey is exactly the same. The help needed doesn’t come from one staff member or friend or family member, it comes from a community.

What if do decide to attend CSU as a first-generation student? How can I get help navigating?

CSU offers a large amount of help to first-generation students, as 1 in every 4 students here identifies as first-generation. We provide support for these students from applications all the way to graduation. Key Communities and the Academic Advancement Center connect students to peers and mentors that can help you succeed academically. We also have the Community for Excellence, which provides students with a network of support for their academics, finances, well-being, and even help with decisions about where to live as a student. Additionally, we have the Access Center that focuses on emphasizing students’ talents and exposing students to a wide variety of educational opportunities far before coming to CSU. Our Student Diversity Programs and Services offices strive to simply give a space on campus to students of various cultural backgrounds to call home.

Last, but certainly not least, CSU faculty cares. The amount of professors and employers I’ve had on campus who support me academically and personally has been beyond belief. As a first-generation student not understanding how to navigate life as an adult, much less a college student, and with my family far away, I’ve had faculty members step up and be my guidance while also giving me space to grow and be innovative to learn on my own.

Jennifer Guitierrez

Jennifer Gutierrez is a first-generation Latina student double majoring in International Studies and Spanish with minors in Political Science and International Development. Her involvements at CSU include holding different positions within her sorority, Pi Lambda Chi Latina Sorority Incorporated, and working in various mentorship and community building groups like Key Communities and El Centro, along with other offices on campus. In her free time she spends time with her dog Nova, attends yoga or HIIT classes at the recreation center, and calms down with painting.

Interested in more first-generation student perspectives?

Miguel is a first-generation CSU graduate, and he’s sharing three major takeaways from his college experience in this blog.

read his story