FAQs For First Generation College Students

A first generation college student (FGCS) is first individual in the family of origin to attain a college education. Many non-first-generation students arrive on campus with valuable knowledge of the unspoken processes of college life, while first generation college students must frequently overcome an uphill learning curve to figure out how the system works. This piece lists various questions that are frequently asked by first generation college students.


FAQs For First Generation College Students

Although different colleges and universities have their own assorted definitions for first generation college students (FGCS), the term typically describes an individual who is the first in the family of origin (father, mother, brothers and/or sisters) to attain a college education.

First generation college students may face distinctive challenges that do not have nearly as much of an effect on schoolmates whose parents and/or siblings have a history of college attendance. For instance, the FGCS must traverse the higher education bureaucracy without the guidance of family members who would be able to recall firsthand college experiences, offer explanations and give personal advice. According to Parks (2010), students may begin their college experience with little or no knowledge of the expectations, resources, or jargon associated with a college campus.

I was a first generation college student who lacked knowledge regarding the basics of the higher education process. Initially, I felt alienated and overwhelmed by the process and my learning curve was very steep compared to others. Here are some questions that many of my FGCS classmates and I had.

What is a college credit? What does it represent?

According to Ask.com, "a college credit hour is the basic unit of measure in determining college credit where upon graduation, one is supposed to have covered a certain number of hours. They are what the school looks at to determine whether a selected course has been completed." The majority of schools offer semester credit hours, but some colleges and universities offer quarter credit hours.

How many hours a day do I spend in college?

In high school, most full-time students spend all day in classes. However, in college you will average two or three hours in class per day. If you are enrolled in 15 semester hours of classes, you will spend 15 hours in classes per week. Also, you might not need to attend every day, depending on your schedule. For example, if all of your courses are scheduled for Tuesday and Thursday, you do not need to come to campus on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

How many credits do I need to receive a degree?

The typical associate of arts (AA) or associate of science (AS) degree requires completion of a minimum of 60 semester credit hours at most colleges. Some specialized degrees, such as the associate of applied science degree in nursing (AAS), may require you to earn up to 72 semester credit hours.

Most baccalaureate degrees, such as the bachelor or arts (BA) or bachelor of science (BS), require completion of at least 120 semester credit hours. Specialized degrees such as the bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), may require completion of up to 128 semester credit hours at some universities.

My declared major is nursing. Why do I need to take classes in subjects such as English, math, science, psychology, and history?

open-book-exam.jpg.0efbb2633517467c3a6b547ea3a9ab67.jpg College students are required to take classes in a variety of subjects. This group of classes, better known as 'general education' or 'core curriculum coursework,' is usually completed prior to enrollment in nursing courses, although some schools allow students to take these courses as co-requisites. General education coursework facilitates the introduction of new ideas and helps the student acquire a wide breadth of knowledge in multiple topics, gain intellectual skills, cultivate an expanded worldview, and understand others' points of view.

In a nutshell, general education basically assists in crafting a well-rounded academic experience. You're probably thinking, "These courses are a waste of time because I want to study nursing!" Be cognizant that nurses use written English, math, science and a little bit of psychology in their line of work. In addition, I have had the honor of caring for patients who were veterans of foreign wars, so my US History coursework prepared me for educated conversations with them.

What is the point of tests such as the SAT, ACT, Accuplacer, TEAS, NET, HESI, etc.?

The SAT, ACT, Accuplacer and other collegiate pre-entrance exams help assess the student's knowledge base in reading comprehension, writing and math prior to enrollment in college coursework. Essentially, these tests assess the student's readiness for college-level coursework. Unfortunately, not all schools deliver equally effective education. So even though you earned a 4.0 grade point average in high school, the results of pre-entrance testing may determine that you would benefit from remedial (a.k.a.) developmental courses in elementary and intermediate algebra because you achieved a low score on the math section of the exam. Also, nontraditional adult learners who have been out of school for several years may or may not have forgotten basic skills.

Pre-entrance tests such as the TEAS, NET and HESI are conduits that help directors of nursing programs assess prospective students for essential academic skills. Statistically, students with higher scores are likely to be successful in a nursing program because they have mastered essential skills in reading, math and science.

I'm struggling in my courses. What do I do?

In the college setting, instructors and professors expect students to make the first move if you need help. Learn to approach these professors during office hours. Assistance is available, but you must find it because it will not find you. Utilize resources on campus such as tutoring centers, academic advisors, reading and math labs, and so forth.

How do I find out which books I will need?

If you are taking face-to-face courses, visit the campus bookstore and they direct you to the correct books for the courses you are taking. If you are taking online courses, the instructors should maintain an online syllabus with a list of books and materials you will need.

What are the requirements to earn a nursing degree?

The requirements vary greatly from institution to institution. Your school's nursing program should have a website with the requirements and deadlines listed. If you need further clarification, schedule an appointment with an academic advisor because they are paid to advise students.


Parks, Brian. (2010). First Generation Parents and Students. University of Oregon. 

TheCommuter, BSN, RN, CRRN is a longtime physical rehabilitation nurse who has varied experiences upon which to draw for her articles. She was an LPN/LVN for more than four years prior to becoming a Registered Nurse.

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1,026 Posts

Well written. Thanks for sharing.

Great article. As a first generation college student I 100% agree with this post. I didn't know about saving money by buying books off campus, getting an apartment is cheaper, there was a site that gave reviews on professors, or that it's important to get involved and network. Some of these may seem like a no brainer, but when a student is coming from a high school mindset these things don't naturally come to mind.


372 Posts

Has 7 years experience.

So true! My parents didn't go to college, & I am the only nurse on my mom's side of the family. My first semester of college was very hard...

Specializes in Psych.

My father didn't graduate high school and my mother didn't finish grade school. I am the first to go to college and it didn't happen until I was 30!!! Non of my siblings attended so I had no idea what I was in for. Little by little it has come together and I have been able to access different resources within the CC's I'm attending.

Isis Phoenix

39 Posts

This is a very good article; pursuing the arts, and science before nursing will produce well rounded individuals is indeed a fact. Let me also point out that individuals who have done so are flexible, they have the option to change careers more often than a person who went straight into nursing…..not the done thing now a days. Long ago my great-grandmother,and grandmother had no choice; they learned how to nurse on the job…not in any college, or school…for them it was hands on practical training, not much theory, and that was a lifetime profession for them....that's how the informal midwives were trained and they did a good job too.


5 Posts

Hello everyone,

I have been out of school since getting my GED at 18, I am 25 years old now, and I am very worried about going back to school (especially for nursing). I got a job at 18 as a life coach for mentally handicapped adults and had the same basic job description as a CNA. I LOVED that job, I LOVE helping people. My fiance suggested nursing school because he said I am the most empathetic person he has ever met, so here I am. Haha it was between nursing and veterinary assistant (LOVE animals, I have 11 pets). But, I am so very nervous about going back to school after 7 years. I am starting my pre reqs in the fall, any advice?

I'm so worried I am not smart enough for nursing school. I don't want to let myself down again. My last job as a Municipal Clerk really threw my self esteem in the garbage... I tried so hard....

Does anyone have advice on going back to school after a few years?

Any study tips to shake the dust off?

What are the most important qualities a nurse needs?

Any advice is welcome and appreciated!

TheCommuter, BSN, RN

226 Articles; 27,608 Posts

Specializes in Case mgmt., rehab, (CRRN), LTC & psych. Has 17 years experience.
I'm so worried I am not smart enough for nursing school.

Welcome to Allnurses.com! Contrary to popular notions, a person does not need to be academically gifted to successfully get through a typical nursing program. People with average abilities become nurses all the time, so minimize the negative self-talk.

Does anyone have advice on going back to school after a few years?

Work on your study skills. Also, work on your time management skills since you'll be a nontraditional student with adult responsibilities. You are going to be juggling multiple priorities in your life. Good luck to you.

pmabraham, BSN, RN

2 Articles; 2,560 Posts

Specializes in Hospice, Palliative Care. Has 3 years experience.

Good day, @Jakodi

If I can go back to school after close to 30 years being out of school, and do OK, so can you! See if your school offers any free study workshops. Work with your advisor on a plan schedule for what classes to take in what order. Do participate in every class as it helps you get rid of any bad thought process as well as reinforce good thought processes. As an empathic person, do try to help your fellow classmates, but be learn to set proper boundaries so you don't get taken advantage of by others. The following links my be helpful to you:

How to get an "A" in any course.

CrunchRN, ADN, RN

4,481 Posts

Specializes in Clinical Research, Outpt Women's Health. Has 25 years experience.

That was my path and age frame too. You will do fine. The most important thing is to learn how to study effectively and then put the time in.


3,677 Posts

Specializes in L&D, infusion, urology. Has 2 years experience.

Good for you wanting to do this!!

One thing that helped me after a gap in school was going back slowly. I started with one general ed class my first semester, then two the next, then three, until I went back to full time and launched into prereqs with study skills polished up.

You don't need to be an academic genius, however, GPA is a major factor in getting into a nursing program, so it's important to do what you need to do to keep that high.

It sounds like your personality is a good match for nursing. I agree with pmabraham's comment about setting firm boundaries, as people may take advantage of you, especially manipulative patients (and we all encounter them).

Attention to detail is also very important, as everything we do is literally life and death, when you get down to it.

Spangle Brown

302 Posts

I believe you will actually do better. You have a real goal that you, yourself have chosen. You want it, and are more willing to fight for it.

I returned after 20 years. And I have 2 of my children going to college at the same time as me. There is a big difference between us, besides age. I really, really want this. Them, it's just something that needs to be done, blah. And it shows in our grades. I made the Presidents list this term and they didn't get kicked out.

I was afraid I would not make it this far and I would be embarrassed. But just finished all my pre-req and have my application in. If I can do this, so can you!