“It’s Easy to Feel Alone, But When You Have Community, it Makes [College] a Lot Easier”: First-generation Students’ Academic and Psychosocial Adjustment Over the First Year of College

Azpeitia et al. / Journal of Adolescent Research / May 10, 2023

Group of Black Students Sitting Outside

Emerging adult, first-generation college students (FGCSs) face academic and social challenges in their adjustment to college. FGCSs are more likely to be students of color and from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who may face particularly difficult challenges when they attend highly selective, predominantly White Institutions (PWIs) that have historically centered White middle-class cultural norms and practices. The authors used longitudinal, embedded mixed methods to holistically understand the college adjustment experiences of 43 first-year, FGCSs predominantly Latinx and Black students at a PWI. Students participated in focus groups and completed self-report questionnaires three times over the course of their first year of college. The authors found that evolving interpersonal relationships (with peers, faculty, the institution, and their families) and the institution’s climate were at the core of the adjustment process over FGCSs’ first year of college. While institutional capital posed barriers, the support that FGCSs received primarily from students, staff, and faculty of similar backgrounds positively contributed to participants’ wellbeing and college adjustment. In addition to efforts by PWIs to recruit FGCSs, PWIs need to restructure their systems to deliver on their promised support and provide sustained resources that FGCSs need to adjust to and succeed in college and beyond.