First-Generation Student Survival Guide

Staff Writer
Apr 25, 2022

In addition to the pride of successfully graduating from high school with grades that prepare you for college, you might be struggling with ideas that other students who are more familiar with the system already understand. With our guide for first-generation students, we hope your college entrance experience and the road to completion looks a little less daunting.

First, we’ll address the practical issue that gets you into college or technical school in the first place.

Financial Aid

Fact: School is expensive.

It’s a rare student who can afford higher education with the money they already have in their bank account. At least 66 percent of students rely on financial aid in the form of scholarships, grants, loans, or work-study programs to help pay for school.

Related resources: Who Qualifies for Financial Aid?

First-Generation FAFSA

Student financial aid is available to most students to make higher education possible. It’s important to remember that student loans must be paid back when school is over. Scholarships and grants do not need to be paid back.

The federal Office of Federal Student Aid provides financial assistance to 13 million students every year to pay for college or career school.

How do you apply for FAFSA? Here’s the step-by-step process if you’re applying to Joyce:

1. Apply for the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Register for a FSA ID. You will need a FSA ID to sign your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) electronically. If you don’t have a FSA ID, you can request a FSA ID here. If you were born after 1/1/1994 your parents may also be required to obtain a FSA ID and include their information on your FAFSA. Dependency status will determined by questions answered on your FAFSA.

2. Complete the 2017-2018 Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

3. Visit the FAFSA website and click “Start A New FAFSA.”

4. Enter the required information. Once you reach the school selection tab, enter 016027 as the Federal School Code for Joyce. Click “Search”. Check the box next to “Joyce” from the search results. Click “Add”. Joyce will be listed under selected schools. Click “Next” to continue. Then select “Off Campus” as your housing plan. Click “Next” to continue filling out your FAFSA.

5. Use your FSA ID to sign your FAFSA electronically. The school(s) that you specified in your FAFSA application will send you a financial aid award letter or email. The award letter will specify what loans, grants, or scholarships you qualify for. You must respond to the award letter in order to accept the financial aid.

6. Visit the Joyce website to review the College’s Consumer Information Guide.

7. Complete entrance counseling and sign a promissory note. You’ll get the financial aid when both of these are completed.

At Joyce, your FAFSA results will be sent to the Financial Aid office approximately two days after you complete the application. If you have any questions as you complete the Financial Aid process, please don’t hesitate to contact your Financial Aid representative.

Related resource: Advice for Applying to Nursing School a Second Time

What Kind of Scholarships Can You Get?

Apply for scholarships. Financial aid is great because it enables students to afford school — but scholarships are free!

Billions of dollars in scholarships go unclaimed each year, because students simply don’t apply for them or think they wouldn’t qualify.

Scholarships may be awarded on the basis of your GPA, the sport you play, your interests, hobbies, heritage, area of study, and much more. Five types of scholarships exist for an array of student needs and skills:

  • Merit-based scholarships are awarded for academic excellence or talent.
  • Need-based scholarships are awarded based on your or your parents’ financial situation.
  • Athletic scholarships are granted by schools to attract top athletic talent.
  • Individual scholarships are often related to your field of study. They may be issued from a private donor such as a school alumni or private organization.
  • Scholarships for minorities are intended to help people of color, women, or students of certain nationalities pursue higher education.

Fastweb is a great resource for students looking for financial aid. Its list of 10 scholarships you can apply for today is just a handful of thousands of available scholarships.

The more scholarships you apply for, the better your chances are of getting one or more.

You Belong Here

Money is one thing, but first-generation students often wrestle with the question of whether they belong in school in the first place. If you want to pursue higher education, you should!

First-generation students can struggle to fit in. Cultural issues are often at play, but so are family issues — especially feelings of guilt. While many parents work just to put food on the table for their families, it can be hard for students to spend their time in class instead of working to contribute to the household.

In a piece about fitting in, the author, then a first-generation college student, relates a phone call home. “Maybe you think you’re better than us because you went to college,” her mother says to her. The student was crushed, but her mom’s words struck a chord. After spending months in an academic environment, surrounded by people with a critical ear for language and careful word choice, it was hard for the student to react to off-color jokes in the same way as before.

It can be helpful to remember that although you’re a first-generation student, you’re not the first person to experience social or financial anxiety.

Related resource: When Is the Right Time to Go Back to School

Find Office Hours

First-generation students are often less likely than their peers to ask for help. This is a disadvantage that can be easily fixed: figure out the office hours of your instructor and counselor, and go talk to them. They are here to help.

One study showed that students who took part in mentoring and coaching services were 10–15 percent more likely to advance to another year of college.

Find a Mentor

What do First Lady Michelle Obama, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren all have in common? They’re all first-gen college students.

Look for other students or instructors on campus who come from a similar background. Ask how they deal with the pressure to fit in socially or financially.

If you’re not sure how to connect with a mentor, it’s not hard to find examples of successful first-gen college graduates for inspiration. Our country abounds with success stories! Just ask Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz.

Related resource: Nursing School Survival Kit

Finish What You Start

It is deeply unfortunate that first-generation college students complete higher education at a lower rate than those students whose parents have a college education. This is due to factors such as cultural and language barriers, financial and family obligations, and more.

There are many reasons why it’s important to finish the education you start.

If you accept financial aid to go to school, you have to pay loans back even if you don’t finish your degree. The only thing worse than graduating with thousands of dollars in debt is having thousands of dollars in debt and nothing to show for it.

The opposite is also true: If you finish your degree, you’ll be in a much better financial position to pay off debt and improve your and your family’s standard of living.

At Joyce, our instructors go to great lengths to ensure the success of each of our students.

Our financial aid representatives work closely with students and help them with the complicated process of securing financial aid. Joyce also offers scholarships.

Learn more about our admissions processfinancial aid, and our accredited programs.


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