If your student is the first person in your family to attend college (also known as first generation college students or first-gen), you may be feeling an especially strong sense of pride and accomplishment as your student attends Michigan. You may also be feeling a bit like a student yourself because there is so much to learn about the university environment. While this entire website is intended to help family members navigate the University of Michigan, this page in particular is intended to help families of first generation college students with specific resources and information that may be especially helpful to those who did not attend college. 

There are many unknowns about your student's college journey, and it can be overwhelming to figure out how to support your student throughout this adventure. Rest assured, that if you're reading this, you're already on the path to helping your student be successful. It is important for first generation college students to receive guidance and support from their parents and families as they make the transition to college. Sometimes, though, these parents and family members may not know the best way to support students during this transition. Figuring out how to be supportive, while at the same time promoting your student's independence, in an environment that is unfamiliar to you can be an enormous challenge. We encourage you to review the sections below to learn more about ways that you and the university can support your student throughout their educational journey. 

University Resources for First Gen Students & Their Families

The university is a big place, and there is a campus resource for just about every challenge your student may encounter -- from how to study for a chemistry exam to how to get a flu shot. However, because there are so many resources, it's often difficult to find what you or you student may be looking for. And sometimes, it's hard to know exactly what you are looking for, which makes searching for it on a website a challenge.

A great place to start, for both students and their families, is the First Generation Student website and the First Generation Student Gateway, located at 3009 Student Activities Building, 515 E. Jefferson St. These resources are designed specifically for first generation students, by first generation students and their campus allies. The university also has a website to provide information and resources for current undocumented and DACAmented students

Students will also be able to get help from their resident advisor (an upper-level student living in the residence hall) and other staff members within the residence hall, Michigan-specific mobile apps, and their M-Planner (the student handbook they receive at orientation). In addition, the Campus Information Centers, the Office of New Student Programs, and the Dean of Students Office serve as general referral sources of information (among other responsibilities) to help students and their families navigate the campus. 

As parents and family members, we encourage you to keep informed about the university as well. Parent & Family Orientation is offered during the summer months to provide you with helpful information about the university and your student's experience on campus. Parent & Family Orientation is an optional program, but it is especially helpful for families sending their first student to Michigan. The Parent & Family Orientation program does have a fee, but if cost is a concern, please contact the Office of New Student Programs about fee-waiver eligibility. 

In addition to the Parent & Family Orientation program, the Office of New Student Programs sends out electronic newsletters during the summer months to parents and family members of incoming freshmen. These newsletters, titled Preparing Your Wolverine, provide information about preparing your student and your family for the college transition. You will receive these newsletters automatically if your student included an email address for you on the admissions application. These newsletters are sent out from April-September before your student arrives on campus. 

Once your student has enrolled at Michigan, you are also encouraged to sign up for the Family Matters electronic newsletters. Family Matters, produced by Student Life, provides information for parents and family members beyond the initial college transition. To receive the Family Matters newsletter, your student must sign you up to receive the newsletters. This cannot be done by you; only your student can enroll you in this mailing list. 

Recommended Reading for First Gen Parents & Families

If you would like to learn more about your role as a parent or family member of a college student, there are numerous books and websites available.

 

In addition, there are a few websites that might be especially helpful as the parent or family member of a first generation student: 

University of Michigan First Generation Student Website

Advice about College from First Generation Students

Huffington Post article for First Generation Families

Washington Post article about First Generation Families

US News article about First Generation Students

Michigan Daily article about First Generation Students

 

Advice for First Gen Parents & Families

Here are a few tips to help you show support for your Wolverine during the ups and downs of their college journey.   

Tip #1: Don't let them feel guilty.  Many first-generation students feel guilty about having left their family. As a family member, it’s important to know, and to remind your student of, the value of a college education. In the long run, a college degree will be beneficial to the whole family so it's helpful to keep the long-term goals in focus, even during day-to-day sacrifices and hardships. 

Tip #2: Expect change: Students experience a lot of growth during their time at Michigan. College and the experiences associated with it can effect changes in social, vocational, and personal choices. It’s inevitable, and it can be inspiring. It can also be a pain in the neck. Your student may be having trouble figuring out where they belong and may feel they don’t quite fit in as much at home anymore. Although the process may be challenging and confusing, it’s important to support their changes and to give them understanding.

Tip #3: Demonstrate confidence that they will be successful. If you have confidence in them, they will have more confidence in themselves. The University of Michigan believes that they will be successful here, and your student should believe that as well. Yes, it will be challenging, but your student has the ability to meet that challenge. It’s important to remember that intelligence and abilities are not fixed in stone; failing one test or even an entire class does not determine future success. Each challenge at Michigan is an opportunity for your student to grow.

Tip #4: Acknowledge that college is hard. Really hard. Don’t believe the movies you see. College isn’t just one big party. College students experience an enormous amount of pressure and anxiety. Anything you can do to reduce or eliminate pressure from the family can help your student stay on track and keep focused. For example, in December families often plan gatherings and family commitment around holidays. However on campus, December represents due dates for end-of-term papers and final exams. Encouraging your student to focus on studying instead of expecting them to be at the family events can be a great way to show your support and understanding of their college demands.

Tip #5: Encourage your student to find a mentor on campus. Building relationships is part of the college experience, and a mentor can often help your student navigate the complexities of the college environment. How does a student find a mentor? Encourage them to start by talking to people they are comfortable with – it could be another student like a Resident Advisor in the residence hall, or a staff member from the job that they work at, or even a professor or graduate student instructor. Your student can also start by utilizing the campus resources for first-generation students, including the First Generation Student Gateway, the First Generation Student Website or the First Generation Student Organization.

Tip #6: Understand the value of getting involved outside of the classroom. Because college is so hard, it is tempting to expect your student to spend all of their time studying. However, a college education is more than just academics. A college education also takes place in the environment outside of the classroom. Students who get involved on campus are more likely to feel a sense of belonging in their campus environment, and this sense of belonging is a crucial piece in graduating on time. In addition, one of the things that makes Michigan special is the opportunity to meet, learn from, and build friendships with, a diverse array of people from all over the world. The life-long connections with people at Michigan can turn into important contacts and opportunities in the future. Getting a "foot in the door" at the perfect job might just be the result of a friend from college. 

Tip #7: Remind them that you’re proud of them. Among the many pressures in college is the pressure of living up to their family’s expectations. Remember to tell them that you support them and their decision to get a college education. Your support, encouragement and love are essential components for first-generation students to be successful in achieving their educational goals.

Tip #8: Send Care Packages Students love to get mail - real mail that shows up in their campus mailbox. From a note that says "I love you" to a batch of home made cookies, a little something from home is always welcome. 

 

Participate in Research about First-Gen Families

In an effort to better understand the experiences of families of first-generation college students, the University of Michigan Department of Sociology SOUL program is seeking to interview the parents or guardians of first-generation students. If you are the parent or guardian, or were the primary caregiver, to a first-generation college student at the University of Michigan and are willing to participate, then we would like to interview you over the phone at your convenience. Interviews typically last one hour. We will mail you a $10 Visa gift card after the interview to show our appreciation. Contact Matt Sullivan (msulli@umich.edu) if you would like to participate or if you have any questions. Thank you in advance for your assistance with this project.