Member View: Easing the College Transition for First-Gen Students


Editor’s note:  This post was originally published on Admitted in August 2018. It’s being republished as part of NACAC’s Best of the Blog series.

Heading off to college can be an anxiety-ridden process for all teens, but first-generation and low-income students experience “a whole different level of stress,” NACAC member Andrew Moe wrote in a op-ed for the Hechinger Report.

As a result, such students are far more likely than their peers to “melt” — a term used to describe the phenomenon of students who enroll in college but fail to show up in the fall.

“They think there aren’t any other students on campus who are the first people in their families to go to college. But there are,” wrote Moe, associate dean of admissions and director of access at Swarthmore College (PA). “And it’s our job as educators to ensure that first-generation students don’t feel alone, and that they have the necessary support during this tough transition—from high school applicant to college graduate.”

In the piece, Moe urged colleges to continue to develop new programs and policies to better support low-income and first-gen students. He also highlighted several Swarthmore initiatives that he feels have helped make the campus more welcoming.

They include:

  • First semester pass/fall grading for all freshmen — an effort to help students acclimate to campus without worrying about grades.
  • A cash-free campus — students never have to pay to attend campus athletic events, lectures, or movie nights. An annual activity fee (which is calculated into a student’s cost of attendance and financial aid package) reduces the need to have cash on hand to take part in campus life.
  • Student Emergency Fund – offers financial assistance to students in crisis.

At Swarthmore, nearly a quarter of incoming freshmen in 2018  were the among the first in their families to pursue higher education, Moe noted.

“While we certainly can’t solve all of the challenges faced by first-generation, low-income students when they come to campus, we’re working very hard at Swarthmore to make our student body better reflect the true character and fabric of the world,” Moe wrote. “Programs that make all of our students feel comfortable and help them succeed, both within and beyond the classroom, work toward this.”

Read the full op-ed.

Admitted writer/editor Mary Stegmeir welcomes additional comments and story ideas at

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