Definition: Students whose parents do not have a college degree or whose parents completed a four-year degree at an institution outside the U.S. Being a first-generation student is an invisible identity that intersects with many other identities.

  • 33% of higher-education students are the first in their families to attend college (U.S. Department of Education).

Typical Strengths: Resilience/grit, enthusiasm, curiosity, gratitude, a sense of responsibility

Common Experiences:

  • Having to work and attend school at the same time
  • Uncertainty and confusion about selecting a major and/or career path
  • Cultural differences from the rest of the community; feeling less of a sense of belonging
  • Not receiving sufficient support for their career goals by their families, but feeling pressure to succeed
  • Difficulty adjusting to the academic demands of college
  • Guilt that other relatives do not have this educational opportunity
  • Lack of financial support or understanding of the financial aid process
  • Being misunderstood by friends, faculty, and staff
  • Greater rates of depression and stress compared to non-first-generation students (Stebleton, Soria and Huesman, 2014)


  • Seek support from professors, advisors, mentors, etc.
  • Connect with other first-generation students to establish a sense of community.
  • Get involved on campus.
  • Ask questions! It is okay if you do not know the answers. Others might!
  • Talk with someone about your experiences (e.g., counseling).

Campus Resources:

  • Learning Support Services (LSS), CASA, University Counseling Center (UCC), Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ODEI), Office of Intercultural Affairs (OIA), Office of Financial Assistance, Career Services, Student Health Center, and Academic Support.
  • First-Generation Villanovans and Nova Network Group (sign up via Handshake)

Online Resources:

Suggested Readings:

-        Cushman, K. (2006). First in the family: Your college years. Advice about college from first-generation students. Next Generation Press.

-        Clark, K. (2017). Decoding College: Stories, Strategies, and Struggles of First-Generation College Students. Rowe Publishing.

-        Flores, A.D. (2014). 50 Things I Wish Someone Would Have Told Me About College: Straight Talk for First-Generation College Students. CreateSpace Independent Publishing.

-        Stebleton, M. J., Soria, K. M., & Huesman, R. L. (2014). First-generation students’ sense of belonging, mental health, and use of counseling services at public research universities. Journal of College Counseling, 17(1), 6–20.


Free, confidential counseling is available at the University Counseling Center, 206 Health Services Building, 610-519-4050.



In an emergency, call Villanova Public Safety at 610-519-4444.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 988.