First-generation college students often come from lower socioeconomic status homes than their peers. That means that their relative "rank" in society, as ascribed by their families' income, educational attainment, and job or career, dramatically changes when they get admitted and attend an Ivy League school.
This mismatch - students as upwardly mobile, but still carrying the effects and pressures of lower status upbringings - are hard to digest. These challenges, which manifest in the classroom, in conversations with roommates, and on the phone with one's parents present significant hurdles that are indicators of first-generation students' lives.
These universities operate in the norms of upper-middle class life. They use words like "networking" and "civility." They privilege elaborated codes, where students openly ask and expect help. They value independence over fraternity.
A rapid rise in status, inability to communicate these changes back home, and relative lack of first-generation communities on many of these campuses often result in students feeling alone or undeserving of being at their school. Impostor syndrome--a feeling of inadequacy, even when the whole world tells you that you're special or deserving, haunts many first-generation college students and prevents them from taking full advantage of their education.