First-Generation Students

Are you the first in your family to go to college?


Choosing to attend college is choosing to invest in yourself and your future. As a first-generation college student, you’re paving the way for future generations to come. You should be proud. At Columbia College Chicago, we enthusiastically welcome first-generation students and provide them with the resources to successfully navigate college.

For parents and advocates:

Your support and encouragement is crucial in ensuring your student’s success. Here are a few tips and tricks that can get your student on the path to earning a bachelor’s degree:

Talk to high school counselors and teachers. They’re advocates for your student, too, and they’ll have insight that can help you and your student in the college search and application process.

Find a mentor for your student—someone that will encourage them, lead by example and take an interest in their future.

Visit colleges with your student. The best way to determine if a college is the right fit is to pay a visit. Columbia offers tours and events throughout the year that can help you and your student get a sense of our campus and our culture.

If your student enrolls at Columbia, utilize the Parents Launchpad. This webpage has information about student support, academics, campus communities, career preparation and more—all in one convenient place.

Other resources to help you:


TRIO helps low-income and first-generation college students actualize their maximum potential and persist toward graduation. TRiO is a federally funded Student Support Services program.

Scholars Project

In 2021, the Scholars Project was created as part of Columbia College Chicago’s Social Justice Initiative, to better support students who identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) or first-generation college students. The Scholars Project’s mission is to promote equitable student success by connecting students to key resources, helping them to identify their strengths, and empowering students as they develop a sense of belonging at Columbia. The Scholars Project will work together with students from historically marginalized backgrounds in all aspects of their Columbia experience both in and out of the classroom. 

Student Diversity & Inclusion

Student Diversity & Inclusion (SDI) supports students through programming, educational outreach, and intentional community building. SDI’s programs and events aim to engage Columbia students in the exploration of their identities; and in understanding the ways in which identity is uniquely actualized, expressed, and lived. SDI provides opportunities for students to engage in dialogue around issues of power, privilege, and oppression in order to develop a greater knowledge and understanding of themselves, each other, their communities, and the world. 

UStrive - I'm First!

Columbia partners with UStrive and I’m First!, an online community that provides current and future first-generation college students with inspiration, information and support on their journey to and throughout college.

Higher Education Terms to Know

  • Admissions Review Committee

    Admissions Review Committee is the group that reviews applicants’ completed applications to determine if they will be granted admission to the college.

  • Credits

    Credits are the units that indicate a student has completed and passed a course required for a degree. Each course is assigned a credit, or credit hour, value. Students must earn a certain number of credits (determined by each program) in order to graduate.


    FAFSA: Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Columbia uses the results of the FAFSA to determine the amount of financial aid assistance provided for a student’s education.The FAFSA provides access to grants, loans and Federal Work-Study opportunities. It takes about 30 minutes to complete online, and it must be completed each year you are enrolled in college.

  • Financial Aid

    Financial Aid is any type of financial assistance obtained for the purpose of going to college. Financial aid primarily comes in two forms: scholarships or grants (assistance you do not have to pay back) and student loans (assistance you have to pay back, usually with interest, after graduation).

  • Letter of Recommendation

    Letter of Recommendation is a letter written by an instructor, counselor, advisor, mentor, or other individual that assesses your skills and speaks to your ability to succeed at the college level. Columbia requires one or more letters of recommendation to apply.

  • Orientation

    Orientation is our official process of welcoming new students to the college. During these events, you’ll learn about campus, get your campus card and register for classes. Columbia organizes Orientation dates by major, so you’ll meet future classmates and hear from faculty in your specific department.

  • Registration

    Registration is the process by which you enroll in classes for the upcoming semester. Registration takes place three times each year, for the Fall, Spring and Summer semesters. New incoming undergraduate students register at Orientation.

  • Room and Board

    Room and Board is the amount a student pays for housing, meals and other living expenses.

  • Tuition

    Tuition is the cost charged in exchange for instruction and training. Columbia charges by semester or by credit hour, depending on part- or full-time status. Tuition does not include the cost of textbooks, fees, or room and board.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why is getting a college degree so important?

    It's a fact: Getting a college degree increases your earning potential. A College Board report from 2013 states, "During a 40-year-full-time working life, the median earnings of a bachelor's degree recipients without an advanced degree are 65% higher than the median earnings of high school graduates." At Columbia you'll learn tangible skills that translate in the working world. But college is about more than landing a great job. It's about connecting with people and finding your voice.

  • What does "first-generation" college student mean?

    You’re considered a first-generation college student if your parents/guardians have not completed a bachelor’s degree.

  • What types of supportive programming do you offer these students?

    Columbia’s Conaway Achievement Project and Peer Support Program are specifically designed to support first-generation students—personally and academically—throughout their college career. Our Multicultural Affairs division and its subsidiary offices champion first-generation and minority students, connecting them with peers, mentors, faculty and staff at Columbia. See the Support and Resources section on this page for more information.

  • What is navigating financial aid like?

    We know that paying for college is one of the biggest barriers to enrollment. Student Financial Services (SFS) at Columbia is here to help students calculate costs, fill out the FAFSA, learn about funding sources and answer any other questions related to financing a college education. SFS representatives are available via Live Chat and by phone from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

  • How much financial aid will I receive?

    In 2015, 89% of freshman and 83% of all transfer students at Columbia received financial aid. Each student is unique when it comes to determining the amount of financial aid they will receive. Fill out Columbia’s net price calculator to get an estimate of your costs after scholarships and grants.





Meet one of our first-generation alums. This could be you.

Frank EnYart '17 is a recent Fiction grad from Sidney, Ohio. He attended a local community college and earned an associate's degree from Ohio's Cedarville University before transferring to Columbia in 2015.

Frank EnYart
  • How have your parents’ backgrounds influenced you?

    Even though they didn't do super well in school, they always pushed me and my sister to work our hardest in school. They really were examples of hard work for us to see. I would see my dad work in his factory job, something he didn’t really like but knew he had to do, [and that was] how I felt about the work I had to do in class. It wasn't something I cared about, necessarily, but I knew it was going to lead me to something better at some point.

  • Did you ever talk to them about the value of education?

    They were really adamant about us going to college, making the most of our situations and really pursuing something we were passionate about.

  • What kind of support was available to you at Columbia?

    People were really accessible. I remember coming to orientation [alone] and being totally out of my comfort zone.  I was scared out of mind, and one of the first people I met was the manager of my department, who just sat down and was like, “This is what the program's like, here are the classes.” It was super easy to fit in and not feel like an outsider.

  • What was it like navigating the financial aid system?

    For me, it was as easy as just walking here, and they were like, “Sit down for a couple seconds and we'll talk about it.” It was pretty clear to me what I had to do and when I had to do it. As a first generation student whose parents don't have any idea how [the financial aid system] works, it was very easy for me to navigate by myself.

  • What’s one thing you didn’t expect to happen as a first-generation student?

    I didn't expect to find so many people who were in the same boat as I was or people being so easy to reach. The school I went to before was very…I wouldn't even say prestigious, but it was just very homogenous. I felt more like an outsider there, in my own state, than I do here.

    The one thing about Columbia is that you're able to find what you want to do and do it really well, and people really care about it. I’ve met a ton of great writers here. It’s super easy to find people to build a community around, and I did not expect that at all.

  • What does a college education mean to you?

    For me, it's an opportunity to spend four years of really intense time doing something you care about. I can't imagine another time in my life where I can spend four years sitting down with other 20-year-olds and talking about a short story that was written 100 years ago. That’s never going to happen again.

    So I think for me, college is an opportunity to invest a lot of time in something you care about before you have to do the adult stuff, and it's a time to just be totally focused on you and what you want to do. I don't think that ever happens outside of school.