Ashley Harlow

Major and Classification

Psychology and Sociology

Faculty Mentor

Elaine Kaplan, Ph.D.


Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

McNair Project

“College Life: Difference in College Experience Between First Generation and Traditional Students”

Project Abstract

This research studied the difference in college experience between first generation and traditional college students. Five first generation Latino college students and five traditional college students were interviewed to distinguish the difference in college experiences between the two groups. First generation college students felt misunderstood by family members and past friends because of a lack of understanding, were placed on a pedestal by family members, and felt a need to help other potential first generation college students. By contrast, traditional college students discussed feeling totally supported by family members and friends, expected college attendance to be the next step in their lives, and felt the need to work on themselves rather than help others during college. With first generation college students not feeling included in their past groups and yet not fully feeling accepted into the traditional students’ groups, they felt isolated. Findings from this qualitative study suggest that support programs should be created in universities in order to better address the unique higher education experiences of first generation college students. Such programs should offer college transition programs that focus not only on enhancing academic skills, but also on providing personal counseling, mentoring experiences, and opportunities to build community. These programs will help first generation college students thrive in the college setting.