Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Child and Family Studies

Major Professor

Elizabeth I. Johnson

Committee Members

Megan L. Haselschwerdt, Spencer B. Olmstead


First-generation college attendees comprise a quarter of the nearly 16 million students entering higher education in the United States each year. Previous research finds these students face hurdles specific to their status, such as lower rates of academic success, retention, and campus engagement, and they report higher levels of stress and lower self-efficacy and self-esteem. Additionally, some scholars contend that intergenerational educational mobility negatively impacts family relationships, especially those with parents. In the current study, I take a phenomenological approach to first-generation college students’ experiences in navigating school and family. I interviewed eight undergraduates who were the first in their families to attend college. Findings suggest that parents, despite lacking college experience, provide invaluable support to the academic success and emotional well-being of their children. Several participants also reported role modeling and inspiring younger siblings as a source of pride and motivation to persist. Overall, these students were found to be navigating college experiences quite similar to their continuing-generation counterparts. Implications for future research and institutional programming are discussed.

Available for download on Saturday, August 15, 2020

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