Going to college or university is a privilege – and fortunately, one that’s becoming more accessible for everyone. Globally, half of the students entering university are the first in their family to study further after school. These students deserve to be made to feel welcome and supported.
Why is inclusivity important?
Students who come from families that are not college educated often suffer from imposter syndrome. That is, even though they have met all the criteria to study for their degree, they secretly wonder if they truly deserve to be at university. Without the support of family members who can advise them on the college experience, first-generation students struggle with not feeling ‘part of’ student and campus life.
First generation university students may also battle to adapt to the university system – both academically, and socially. While other students probably have the experiences of siblings and parents to reference when it comes to understanding what college is all about, first-generation students are more often than not, thrown in the deep end. Even something as ‘simple’ as finding their way to the dining hall can feel overwhelming!
What can other students do to help?
Many universities have now developed inclusivity programmes to help first-generation students settle in more easily. While these resources and support structures are vital, inclusivity is most beneficial when it involves students helping other students.
So what can you do? You can reach out to any first-generation students who seem to be struggling. A simple act of kindness and compassion can really make someone feel welcome when they are confused and overwhelmed.
- Offer your friendship and make an effort to get to know them.
- Include them in social and sporting activities.
- Don’t judge them for asking a ‘silly’ question – it’s not silly to them.
- If English is their second language, be patient – they will learn.
- Suggest that you attend any classes you have in common together.
- Suggest that you form a study group where you can share ideas and learn together.
- Let them use your computer or tablet for research and study.
- Let them know that they can rely on you and ask for help at any time.
- If you think they may be struggling, offer to help – they may be too afraid to ask.
The first year at university is challenging for everyone – but especially for students who are the first in their family to receive a tertiary education. Being supportive and understanding of these students can make an enormous difference to their college experience. It’s also excellent for your own personal growth, and can open up possibilities for unexpected friendship to last a lifetime!