30 Incredible First-Generation Student College Options: Students From Non College Families Succeed At These Universities

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30 Incredible First-Generation Student College Options: Students From Non College Families Succeed At These Universities

First-generation college students are important. The growing economy of the world means that employers need increasing amounts of intelligent, well-trained people. But still, for someone who is the first person in their family to go to college, there are many hurdles to overcome. However, if you’re determined to get a better education and achieve a great career, the opportunities are out there. In fact, it’s much easier than you think. And, as this list reveals, many colleges have incredible ways of helping prospective students from non-typical backgrounds.

Some colleges are used to students whose families have never been to college. Others have started programs that are aimed at making first-generation college attendees more integrated. In fact, some states are filled with colleges that proactively want to take on more students from non-academic backgrounds. You just have to know where to look.

Up until now, identifying these first-generation, student-friendly colleges has been a challenge. The internet has many conflicting sources and guides to potential colleges that don’t actually offer any concrete information. This list aims to correct that. We’ve scoured multiple sources and cross-referenced their statements with the recommended colleges themselves.

Whether you want to be an architect or a zoologist, we’ve tried to select a diverse range of college options, so that you have the best information and hopefully the perfect educational destination. But if none of the colleges below are right for you, then this list is still a resource that you can use. It will show you what the best colleges are doing for first-generation students, meaning that you’ll know what to look for in your own options. The first steps to getting into the best possible college for you begin below.

Methodology

The sources for our list are diverse. There are few comparable lists to this one, but Study.com and First Generation Foundation have both provided high-quality assessments. However, the colleges on these lists were only the starting point of our research. Other sources have come from analyzing data that would naturally include students from non-academic backgrounds, such as low-income student college recommendation lists. Additionally, recent newspaper articles that document the colleges that are implementing an ever more friendly atmosphere for students who are the first in their families to go to college also form a key part of our results.

Our sources are as follows:

Study.com, 10 Great Colleges for First Generation Students: https://study.com/articles/10_Great_Colleges_for_First_Generation_Students.html

College Greenlight, Best Colleges for Low-Income Students: http://blog.collegegreenlight.com/blog/best-colleges-low-income-students/

First Generation Foundation, Colleges & Universities: http://www.firstgenerationfoundation.org/students/colleges-universities

RobertKelchen.com, Which Colleges Enroll First-Generation Students?: https://robertkelchen.com/2015/09/14/which-colleges-enroll-first-generation-students/

The Washington Post, Low-income, first-generation students have – finally – established a beachhead at Ivy League schools. Now the real work starts: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2018/03/13/low-income-first-generation-students-have-finally-established-a-beachhead-at-ivy-league-schools-now-the-real-work-starts/?utm_term=.ea6e734fecee

USA Today, Is college worth it? Just ask first-generation students embarking on the American Dream: https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2018/06/01/college-american-dream-first-generation-students-california-column/655734002/

Washington Monthly, 2018 College Guide and Rankings National Universities: https://washingtonmonthly.com/2018college-guide?ranking=2018-rankings-national-universities

Washington Monthly, 2018 College Guide and Rankings Liberal Arts Colleges: https://washingtonmonthly.com/2018college-guide?ranking=2018-rankings-liberal-arts-colleges

After finding the colleges that these sources agree to be the best for first-generation college students, we’ve sorted the results into the below list. The college choices are ranked from 30 to one. Each entry also includes a summary that shows why we’ve included the college. Overall, there are two kinds of colleges on our list: ones that enroll a lower percentage of students whose families haven’t been to college but ensure that they succeed through support services; and ones take on a large number of non-academic background students and have lower graduation rates, but which are still respectable on a national scale.

Results:

Rank School Location
1 Yale University New Haven, CT
2 University of California, Berkeley Berkeley, CA
3 Stanford University Stanford, CA
4 Cornell University Ithaca, NY
5 University of California, San Diego La Jolla, CA
6 Duke University Durham, NC
7 University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill Chapel Hill, NC
8 Berea College Berea, KY
9 Amherst College Amherst, MA
10 Georgia Institute of Technology Atlanta, GA
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  1. Yale University
    Location

    New Haven, CT

    Though it's an Ivy League, world-class college, Yale is ensuring that first-generation students have everything they need to succeed. College Greenlight states that the cost for low-income college students is just $3,918. Even better, its Pell Grant recipient graduation rate is one of the highest in the country at 96%. And the college's aid towards students whose parents haven't gone to college just keeps on getting better and better. For instance, the college a first-generation student conference, which shares the insights of many successful Yale alumni. Study.com also commends Yale's efforts in aiding non-academic background students. Lastly, The Washington Post reports that Yale has started a new program where it will cover low-income students' hospitalization insurance, saving them an additional $2,332 a year.

  2. University of California, Berkeley
    Location

    Berkeley, CA

    Many methodology lists cite the University of California, Berkeley's financial aid as a reason why its first-generation students do so well. For instance, Study.com notes that it runs the Incentive Awards Program, which gives up to $32,000 to students who are the first in their families to go to college. College Greenlight states that the net price of college for low-income students at Berkeley is $8,607 and that graduation among Pell Grant recipient students is an incredible 88%. RobertKelchen.com states that 37% of aided students at the college are first-generation. Washington Monthly names it the seventh best college for students from non-academic backgrounds. Overall, 17% of the University of California, Berkeley's are the first in their families study higher education.

  3. Stanford University
    Location

    Stanford, CA

    Thanks to its needs-blind admissions system, Stanford University costs low-income students on average just $2,841, according to College Greenlight. And the support system in place ensures that 91% of Pell Grant recipients graduate. Stanford's admissions and support systems are also praised in First Generation Foundation. Stanford has an entire office dedicated to diversity and first-generation students, which has been in existence since 2011. This office that the college considers social class to be an important factor in diversity issues, which is a mindset that many colleges could benefit from.

  4. Cornell University
    Location

    Ithaca, NY

    Study.com notes that Cornell has the McNair Scholars Program, which aides low income first-generation students in participating in medical degrees. College Greenlight notes that the average cost for low-income students at Cornell is $11,665, which is more than many colleges, but it is worth it. The college's Pell Grant receiving students enjoy a 92% graduation rate. Lastly, Washington Post notes that the college is one of several that are hiring staff who were themselves the first in their family to go to college, in an attempt to cater their services to these students. Further research reveals that Cornell is doing much more for first-generation student success, such as its First In Class Program, which students to, "come together to share each other's goals, learn about resources and opportunities at Cornell, network and work toward ensuring their success in college and beyond."

  5. University of California, San Diego
    Location

    La Jolla, CA

    University of California, San Diego is Washington Monthly's 10th best college for first-generation students, noting that 36% of students are the first in their family to go to college. This population makes up a large proportion of the Pell Grant recipients of the college, which College Greenlight states are 43% of the overall student body. The source also states that the tuition cost of this college is $8,362 for Pell Grant students and that these students enjoy an 84% graduation rate. The University of California states that students whose parents didn't attend college are doing so well at San Diego because of a program that pairs them up "with peer and professional success coaches.'"

  6. Duke University
    Location

    Durham, NC

    With a low-income student price of $8,777 and a 94% graduation rate for Pell Grant recipients, College Greenlight highlights that Duke University is a great choice for students who are the first in their family to go to college. First Generation Foundation also notes the Duke's network for non-academic students is one of America's strongest. And Duke University has recently been able to take on even more of these students, thanks to a $20 million donation from the highly successful first-generation student alumnus David Rubenstein. This new "covers the full cost of a Duke education."

  7. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
    Location

    Chapel Hill, NC

    College Greenlight notes that 21% of students at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill are Pell Grant recipients. The cost of the college for these students is just $3,823, and graduation for them stands at 86%. First Generation Foundation backs up these statistics, noting that approximately 20% of students are the first in their family to attend college. The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill itself its first-generation students as being, "integral to our campus culture, contributing greatly to our diversity and intellectual life." The college's support services for these students are also incredible. One example is The Hogan Book Award, which free textbooks and course material to first-generation STEM college students.

  8. Berea College
    Location

    Berea, KY

    College Greenlight states that 83% of students at Berea receive Pell Grants. This is because the college is specifically to offer, "a high-quality education to academically promising students with limited economic resources." In fact, no student admitted to the college pays tuition for their years of study. This must also be a reason why Washington Monthly has named Berea the fifth best liberal arts college for first-generation students. And of the graduating students, 41% of the 2017 class was completely debt free. Also, 51% of are the first in their family to attend college. This makes it one of the highest percentages of non-academic students at a private college in America.

  9. Amherst College
    Location

    Amherst, MA

    Washington Monthly considers Amherst College to be the eighth best liberal arts college for first-generation students, with 22% of the student body being made up of this demographic. College Greenlight provides similar statistics on its best low-income colleges ranking, noting that 20% of students at Amherst receive Pell Grants. The net price for low-income students at this college is an incredibly affordable $3,700. The 6-year graduation rate for Pell Grant students is 94%. Amherst runs a range of for students who are the first in their family to attend college to ensure that they feel welcomed. These include family meeting sessions, student receptions, and tent dinners.

  10. Georgia Institute of Technology
    Location

    Atlanta, GA

    Georgia Institute of Technology specializes in STEM degrees. This has benefited the college, as more first-generation students, in general, are choosing these subjects. In fact, College Greenlight states that 19% of Georgia Tech's attendees are now Pell Grant recipients. This may be because, as the old saying goes, it's cheaper in the South. Georgia Institute of Technology definitely seems to have taken this statement to heart, as College Greenlight also notes that the low-income student cost of the college is $6,138. First Generation Foundation commends Georgian Institute of Technology's FirstGen student community. In fact, the college has many of students from non-academic backgrounds succeeding.

By BVS Staff
July 2020

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