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How Parents Can Help First Generation College Students Succeed

By and — Diversity in Education Special Edition Contributor
Updated on Jul 23, 2010
Students often believe that getting accepted into college is the biggest challenge they will face in their college lives (Venezia, Kirst, & Antonio, 2003). They soon realize that they must adjust to increased expectations from faculty, develop strategies to meet greater academic demands, and learn how to manage the newfound freedoms of college (Kirst, 2004; Roe Clark, 2005; Smith & Wertlieb, 2005; Venezia et al.). 
 
Many students experience difficulties transitioning from high school to college because they are unaware of the expectations placed on them and aren’t equipped with strategies for success on campus (Alexson & Kemnitz, 2004; Roe Clark, 2005; Venezia et al., 2003). In one study on the topic, college students reported they had to change their “high school ways to college ways” in order to meet the demands of college (Roe Clark, p. 305).
 
Although all students face difficulties, research suggests that first-generation college students might have a more difficult time adjusting to college because their parents do not have first-hand experience dealing with the demands of college life. Although the following supportive strategies might be relevant to all parents, they might be particularly helpful for parents who do not have any college experience.

Successful Strategies For The First Year Of College

We conducted a study holding group interviews with an ethnically diverse group of students (36.4% White, 40.9% Hispanic, and 22.7% Black) attending a public university in Texas. We asked students to talk about strategies they used to achieve success during their first year in college.
 
Upon arrival at college, many students reported feeling prepared to do well academically, but found that they had underestimated the amount of work necessary to be successful. Other students reported that the ways in which they studied in high school were no longer effective in college.
 
Students reported a number of strategies that contributed to their success during their first year:
  • Attending class regularly.
  • Taking classes with friends.
  • Sharing class notes.
  • Participating in study groups.
  • Reading before class.
  • Meeting with professors or teaching assistants.
When prompted further, many students admitted that they did not necessarily employ these strategies. Students stated that major distractions included the Internet, friends, and Facebook.
 
They discussed trying to attend to their academics while at the same time minimizing distractions from their social lives. In order to maintain this balance, students described the importance of managing their time appropriately. Although students were able to describe why time management and responsibility were important, they admitted to often procrastinating on their schoolwork. 

What Can Parents Do To Support Children During The First Year Of College?

Our findings revealed that students often had to adjust their expectations regarding the degree of work it would take to be successful in college. Furthermore, although students described a range of strategies that contributed to their academic success, they did not always employ them.
 
Parents can help their children better prepare for college by discussing the following topics:
  • Parents should prepare their children for the increased academic demands they will face in college. Parents can do so by sharing their own experiences with their children or introducing them to others who have recently attended college.
  • Parents can discuss the importance of attending class regularly, reading before class, taking thorough notes, completing all class assignments, and participating in study groups. 
  • Parents should also talk about how academic strategies might have to change from class to class and semester to semester. For example, students might visit the writing assistance center when they are required to write papers and might participate in study groups when grades are based on exams.
  • Parents can encourage their children to meet with their professors or teaching assistants outside of class in order to follow up on questions about course material.
  • Parents can encourage their children to use free services available on campus such as tutoring, writing centers, the counseling center, mentoring, and academic advising.
  • Parents can stress the importance of effective time management. For example, parents can provide their child with a calendar and encourage them to keep track of due dates and tasks that need to be accomplished.
  • Finally, parents can discuss the dangers of spending too much time online. Although the Internet can serve as a way of maintaining social connections, too much time online can prevent students from meeting their academic responsibilities.

*The findings from this study are based on research previously published in Yazedjian, A., Toews, M. L., Sevin, T., & Purswell, K. E. (2008). “It’s a whole new world:” A qualitative exploration of college students’ definitions of and strategies for college success. Journal of College Student Development, 49(2), 141-154.

References

Alexson, R. G., & Kemnitz, C. P. (2004). Curriculum articulation and transition student success: Where are we going wrong and what lessons have we learned? Educational Research Quarterly, 28(2),19-28.

Kirst, M. W. (2004). The high school/college disconnect. Educational Leadership, 62, 51-55.

Roe Clark, M. (2005). Negotiating the freshman year: Challenges and strategies among first-year college students. Journal of College Student Development, 46, 296-316.

Smith, J. S., & Wertlieb, E. C. (2005). Do first-year college students’ expectations align with their first-year experiences? NASPA Journal, 42, 153-174.

Venezia, A., Kirst, M. W., & Antonio, A. (2003). Betraying the college dream: How disconnected K-12 and postsecondary education system undermine student aspirations. Retrieved April 1, 2007 from http://www.stanford.edu/group/bridgeproject/embargoed/ embargoed_policybrief.pdf
 
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