Let’s imagine that you’re reading an application from a prospective college student whose mother never enrolled at a postsecondary institution and whose father earned a bachelor’s degree. Would you consider them a first-generation student?
But wait, let’s say their father earned his degree in another country. What then? OK, now let’s imagine that the father earned a four-year degree at a domestic college, but the applicant doesn’t live with him and has no contact with him. Might you consider them “first gen”?
Researchers at the Common Application explore such questions in a new brief on “first-generation” status, a long-familiar term that lacks a universal meaning; colleges use varying definitions, which often vexes applicants and college counselors. “This confuses a lot of people, and they’re right to be confused,” says Brian Heseung Kim, director of data science, research, and analytics at the Common Application and the lead author of the brief.