How Parents of First-Generation Students Can Encourage Their Children to Go to College

Encouraging your students to strive for college can be especially challenging if their parents are from a non-collegiate culture. You may encounter attitudes ranging from a disregard of education or fear of the unknown to reluctant acceptance or enthusiastic cooperation.  Regardless, the opinions and support of their parents are likely to be very important to your students, so often, first-generation parents require more step-by-step guidance and psychological counseling than other parents.

Instilling in these parents a sense of motivation and drive towards education is a task that cannot be achieved by semester-end parent-teacher conferences or occasional interaction in school events.  Identifying these students early, meeting their parents regularly to convey their children’s potential, opportunities, and interests; sharing success stories of other first-generation graduates; openly discussing their fears and assumptions; and providing helpful resources are just some of the ways that can help you build credibility with these parents and become a decisive authority in their children’s schooling decisions.

The strategies below can help these parents to start conditioning their teens to think and plan for college not as a “possibility” but as a “given”:

  • Identify and Target Children’s Interests

There are degrees for everything-from woodcraft to space exploration. If children feel college and education will help them explore their interests better, they are bound to look forward to college. You can help parents identify courses and colleges specializing in their children’s passions and talents.

  • Set Expectations for College From an Early Age

Even though a family may lack a college-going tradition, parents can convey that higher education is accessible and essential. You can provide parents data  in favor of higher education-  70% of all higher-paying jobs in 2016 went to college graduates. And college degree holders can expect to become homeowners, get better healthcare, and earn about $1 million more, over a lifetime, than high-school graduates. Parents can share experiences of the hardships they faced since they didn’t possess a college degree. Higher education should be seen by children as a gateway to a better standard of living and more opportunity for professional fulfillment.

  • Save for College

Financial hardships often discourage first-generation students from pursuing college. Even nominal savings from children towards their college expenses can be a big help later. Children with a college savings account are seven times more likely to pursue higher education. You can encourage parents to open a 529 account, which is both a college saving and tax avoiding option. States like Louisiana and Colorado make matching contributions and give additional tax benefits. Parents can also visit college fairs and financial aid events with their children to learn more about scholarships and loans for higher education.

  • Be Involved in School Life and Academics

Many first-generation students assist their parents in earning a living. But parents need to assert that working should not be at the cost of schoolwork and activities. Considerable time should be set apart daily for completing assignments and self-study. Parents should regularly interact with teachers and counselors and attend all school events. Simple goal setting should be encouraged- reading a book weekly, achieving 100% attendance in a semester and maintaining at least a B minus in all subjects, are some goal examples. You can encourage parents to make their children take AP and honors courses (PSEO and CIS) that can improve their chances of being accepted by colleges. Parents and students can benefit from reading our blog “Rigor in High-School Courses Sets Up College Successes” that talks about how taking the right kind of courses in high school guarantees college success.

  • Maintain Documentation

Parents should organize records of their children’s’ transcripts, certificates, and recommendations. Income and tax documents may be needed when applying for student aid and scholarships or waiver of application fees and prep test fees. They should maintain a calendar highlighting all the deadlines- FAFSA form submission, PLAN and PSAT tests, ACT and SATs, college application forms, interview dates, if any.

  • Visit College Campuses With Their Children

Many first-generation students parents fear that college life will not suit their children or their children will feel isolated on campus. Visiting college campuses with their children can give them an authentic experience of college life. They can learn about college culture, academic programs, financial aid options, student advocacy bodies on campus, dorm and dining facilities, placement assistance options, and much more by visiting colleges. Campus visits can be an eye opener for students, too. They get to see how other first-generation students are coping and to feel inspired to follow through on their plans. You can share our blog to help parents ask the right questions while touring colleges: Questions Parents Can Ask On Campus Tours With Their Children.”

  • Tell Children That College is Not Only About Education

Parents can tell children that college life offers valuable lessons in independence and social skills. It gives opportunities to meet new people and explore new interests. Students can also build professional relationships and earn a living while studying.

  • Interact With Successful First-Generation Graduates

You can facilitate discussion between parents, children, and people in the community who are first-generation graduates and are successful. Such interactions can give hope and direction to aspiring graduates. Parents can raise questions and seek clarification on the assumptions that may have been discouraging them to consider college for their children. You can share lots of inspiring stories in our blog “Proud First-generation Graduates Share their Success Stories” with parents.

Campus Tours Can Be Pivotal

Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to pursue college lies with children, but parents can do their part in instilling a sense of awareness and drive about the importance of education in life.  One of the tools proven to be most effective in motivating such students to go to college is campus visits. Meeting college students, talking with faculty members, exploring aid options, and witnessing cultural and social opportunities on and off campus, can be a catalyst for children who are undecided about their future.

Explore Colleges has years of experience in creating customized, affordable campus tours for first-generation students. From conception to completion, we take care of all granular details and leverage our volume and partner discounts so that you can enjoy productive, stress-free campus visits with your students. Contact me for special offers and discounts.

Kathie Boozer is the founder and president of Explore Colleges, a premier college group tour operator. Explore Colleges’ customized tours  help students experience the unique cultures, environments, and opportunities on each campus and inspire them to follow their dreams. Contact Kathie at

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *