First Generation Students

A first-generation student is someone whose parents or legal guardians have not completed a 4-year degree at a college or university in the United States during their formative years. (If you had a sibling that completed a 4-year degree but your parents or guardians did not, you  are still considered first-generation.)

First-Generation Student Statement

The formal definition of a first-generation college student is a student whose parents did not complete a four-year college degree. However, at Bellin College, we understand that this definition may not fully account for the rich diversity of first-generation college students. For example, your parent(s) could have some college experience but did not earn a degree from a four-year college or university. Your grandparents, aunts/uncles, and siblings could also have degrees, and you would still qualify as first generation. Some first-generation students come from low-income households. Some are students of color, children of immigrant parents and others are working-class white students.

At Bellin College, we think of it more as any student who may self-identify as not having prior exposure to or knowledge of navigating higher institutions such as Bellin College and may need additional resources. 

Despite the different backgrounds of first-generation college students, there is much more that you all may have in common. First-generation college students are often highly motivated and eager to excel in a college setting, but you may also encounter the following challenges:

  • You may feel the pressure to excel as the first in your family to make it to college.
  • You may find it difficult to relate to your peers who do not share the experience of being a first-generation college student.
  • You may have to learn the unspoken cultural norms and expectations of university life.
  • You may have to constantly explain the demands and rigors of college life to your friends and family.

Gaining Resilience and Insight Together (GRIT)

Bellin College’s mission is to educate healthcare professionals through innovation, leadership, and service that promotes lifelong learning and excellence. Bellin College is committed to seeing every student succeed and feels like they belong at Bellin College.

Your journey as a first-generation college student will be exciting, sometimes overwhelming, and never alone as you forge ahead on a new and uncertain path that will soon become your own. Bellin College faculty, staff, and your fellow first-generation college students know the joys as well as the fears of navigating that path – and we’re all here to help you find your way. To get started, Bellin College has created a program called Gaining Resilience and Insight Together (GRIT).

GRIT is a team and mentor-based program that is not mandatory for students. This program is directed by the Director of Student Affairs and DEI. First-generation students will come together each month (or more) to discuss what it is like to be a first-generation student, learn new tactics for student success, create long-lasting friendships, and promote leadership and lifelong learning.  

Students who identified as a first-generation student during their application process will be contacted by members of the student affairs team upon arriving at the institution. Those who identify as first-generation but may not have disclosed this information are encouraged to reach out to the administrative assistant of Student Affairs at

How Faculty and Staff can support first-gen Bellin College students:

Understand what "first gen" means

We define first-gen students as those whose parents or guardians have not earned a bachelor’s degree. Review the First Forward Fact sheets to learn more about the demographics of first-gen students, utilization of services, and post-education outcomes.

Share if you were a first-gen student

Students may feel more comfortable talking to you, knowing that you have been in a similar situation. Mention your first-gen status in your email signature, in your syllabus, or post it in your office. 

Review your course and office materials

Look for acronyms, institutional jargon, or “shortcuts” when describing the physical surroundings or buildings, requirements, or other university administrative processes. Phrases and words that are familiar to us may be particularly confusing for our first-gen students. 

Be clear and consistent with expectations

Share the expected amount of time and effort required to do well and remind students of deadlines throughout the semester. For individual assignments and tasks, describe any consequences that may occur if expectations are not met.

Promote your office hours and accommodate student appointments

Clearly state the ways students can use office hours, such as discussing assignment instructions, reviewing grades, or prepping for an exam. Frequent invitations to use your office hours or request time help normalize the use of these services.

Familiarize yourself with campus resources and colleagues

Students may not be aware of resources like tutoring, health services, counseling, libraries, computer labs, etc. Remind students that utilizing these resources is part of the college experience. Referring students to a specific contact person increases their chances of reaching out.

Encourage students to get involved

Student organizations, first-generation programming called Gaining Resilience and Insight Together (GRIT) campus recreation, or other extra-curricular activities may help them build a social support network.

Know the signs of student in distress and how to respond

Faculty and staff are often able to recognize when a student is struggling, but it can be hard to know what to say or do. Our campus-specific ““Helping Students In Distress” guides outline common scenarios and how to respond, refer, and report when needed.

Questions? Please contact!

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