First-generation college students experience college differently than their non-first-gen student peers. According to Jennifer Engle at the American Federation of Teachers: “While students whose parents have a college education tend to experience ‘college as a continuation’ of their academic and social experiences in high school, going to college often constitutes a ‘disjunction’ in the lives of first-generation students and their families. As a result, first-generation students have to make much more complex academic, social, and cultural transitions to college life, especially during the crucial first year.” 
Since their parents lack postsecondary education, first-generation college students “could not expect or receive guidance from their family and were not confident enough to seek the support of teaching or administrative staff ” demonstrating a significant social capital cap between first and non-first-gen students.  As such, first-generation students enter college with a set of distinctive barriers, and therefore are at a higher risk to drop out, take longer to complete their program, choose unfamiliar careers, or end up in employment much below their potential. 
Research on academic and social integration of first-generation students has shown that their interaction with faculty or advisers was limited and that first-generation students are more hesitant to seek help from these support services.  Even with the same academic preparation and performance, first-generation students are still less likely to experience successes in college, especially in the first year.
These barriers must be addressed at the personal, institutional, and systemic levels to ensure that more first-generation college students who wish to pursue postsecondary education not only get to, but through college. Colleges and universities must better understand the specific needs of first-generation college students, and implement specific programs to better support them. Students and administrators must come together to move their institutions forward and better ensure success for all.
Scholarly Research Articles
- Hoxby, Caroline M., and Christopher Avery. The missing" one-offs": The hidden supply of high-achieving, low income students. No. w18586. National Bureau of Economic Research, 2012.
- Mullen, Ann L. "Elite destinations: Pathways to attending an Ivy League university." British Journal of Sociology of Education 30.1 (2009): 15-27.
- Dale, Stacy Berg, and Alan B. Krueger. Estimating the payoff to attending a more selective college: An application of selection on observables and unobservables. No. w7322. National bureau of economic research, 1999.
- Bernstein, Basil. "Elaborated and restricted codes: Their social origins and some consequences." American Anthropologist 66.6_PART2 (1964): 55-69.
- Rowan-Kenyon, Heather T., Angela D. Bell, and Laura W. Perna. "Contextual influences on parental involvement in college going: Variations by socioeconomic class." The Journal of Higher Education 79.5 (2008): 564-586.
- Jack, Anthony Abraham. 2014. “Culture Shock Revisited: The Social and Cultural Contingencies to Class Marginality”. Sociological Forum 29(2):453-475.
- Stephens, Nicole M., et al. "Unseen disadvantage: how American universities' focus on independence undermines the academic performance of first-generation college students." Journal of personality and social psychology 102.6 (2012): 1178.
Stephens, Nicole M., MarYam G. Hamedani, and Mesmin Destin. "Closing the Social-Class Achievement Gap A Difference-Education Intervention Improves First-Generation Students’ Academic Performance and All Students’ College Transition." Psychological science 25.4 (2014): 943-953.
Collier, Peter J., and David L. Morgan. "“Is that paper really due today?”: differences in first-generation and traditional college students’ understandings of faculty expectations." Higher Education 55.4 (2008): 425-446
Miyazaki, Yasuo, and Steven M. Janosik. "Predictors that Distinguish First-Generation College Students from Non-First Generation College Students."
Warburton, Edward C., Rosio Bugarin, and Anne-Marie Nuñez. "Bridging the Gap: Academic Preparation and Postsecondary Success of First-Generation Students. Statistical Analysis Report. Postsecondary Education Descriptive Analysis Reports." (2001).
Reports & Articles
Who Gets To Graduate? (The New York Times, 2014)
White House Report on Increasing College Opportunity for Low-Income Students; The Executive Office of the President (2014)
The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2013: First-Generation College Students; ACT & Council for Opportunity in Education (COE) (2013)
Straight from the Source: What Works for First-Generation College Students; The Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education (2006)
Moving Beyond Access: College Success For Low-Income, First-Generation Students; The Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education (2008)