5 Messages First-Generation College Students Find Supportive

Lessons learned from a first-generation college student researcher.

Posted Sep 24, 2019

Because autumn is a time when many children go to college, this post features a guest who specializes in researching first-generation college student experiences. This blog post was written by Dr. Tiffany R. Wang, Associate Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Montevallo.

Gerd Altmann/Pixabay
Source: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay

Sending your child off to college can be a difficult experience for both you and your children. You must adjust to a new normal where your children have moved out and live away from home. Children must adjust to living away from home, transitioning from high school to college, and forming new supportive relationships with college mentors (Leach & Wang, 2015; Wang, 2012).

As a parent, you might wonder how you can best support your first-generation college children from afar after they have left home for college. Fortunately, it is possible for you to demonstrate interest in your children’s lives in college, make the transition to college easier for them, and increase the likelihood that they will succeed in college. 

To learn more about the supportive messages first-generation college students received from their parents, a researcher conducted 30 interviews with first-generation college students (students who came from families where neither parent completed a bachelor’s degree; Wang, 2014). 

First-generation college students identified five types of supportive messages they received from their parents:

Remember Family - First-generation college students reported that supportive parents encouraged them to not forget their past as they pursued their future. Sharing messages about “remembering family” encouraged first-generation college students to return home to their families to help better their lives after they graduated from college.

Focus on Family - First-generation college students reported that parents encouraged them to keep family as an integral part of their lives. Sharing messages about “focusing on family” encouraged first-generation college students to decide how to balance their college life and family life.

Count on Family - First-generation college students reported that supportive parents encouraged them to contact their family when they needed them, because they would always be available to help. Sharing messages about “counting on family” encouraged first-generation college students to cherish their family relationships more as they left home to attend college.

Do Not Worry About Family - First-generation college students reported that it was supportive when parents encouraged them to focus on college because the family at home would continue to be successful without them. Sharing messages about “not worrying about family” encouraged first-generation college students to be more confident that they made the right decision to go to college.

Set a Good Example - First-generation college students reported that parents encouraged them to show others that they could succeed despite the obstacles their family went through. Sharing messages about “setting a good example” encouraged first-generation college students to make smart choices in college and take college seriously.

Ultimately, sending a child off to college can be an opportunity to strengthen your parent-child relationship if you share supportive messages that help your child succeed in college.

References

Leach, R. B., & Wang, T. R. (2015). Academic advisee motives for pursuing out of class communication with the faculty academic advisor. Communication Education, 64, 326-344. doi:10.1080/03634523.2015.1038726

Wang, T. R. (2012). Understanding the memorable messages first-generation college students receive from on-campus mentors. Communication Education, 61, 335-357. doi:10.1080/03634523.2012.691978

Wang, T. R. (2014). “I’m the only person from where I’m from to go to college”: Understanding the memorable messages first-generation college students receive from parents. Journal of Family Communication, 14, 270-290.doi:10.1080/15267431.2014.90819