First-Generation ‘Imposter Syndrome’

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Education is the fastest ticket to a higher income, more opportunities, and a better quality of life. But four-year college is often a tough road for the pioneering first in their families to attend.

They have at least two big disadvantages – apart from the well-known financial one.  Unlike the teenagers of the highly educated professionals who usually take for granted that their children will go to college, first-generation students might not have the benefit of high expectations at home. College is outside their comfort zone, which creates psychological barriers to attending and succeeding.

A second disadvantage is that they aren’t always going to learn, through a sort of parental osmosis, to cope with higher education’s mores and attitudes or be as resilient to its challenges.

UCLA student Violet Salazar says in this video that she used to feel she didn’t fully belong, “because I am first generation or because I am Latina, and also coming from a low socioeconomic background.” She went on to organize an entire dormitory floor specifically for first-generation students to make them feel more at home.

The feature story, produced for The NewsHour, explores UCLA’s mentorship program to help them overcome psychological barriers so that they can end their college careers with a degree in hand.

The program’s faculty mentors – all first-generation themselves – have a name for their students’ common challenge: the imposter syndrome.

Forty-five percent of the incoming freshmen in the University of California system are first generation students.  This type of mentorship program seems necessary if universities want all of their young people to succeed.

Squared Away writer Kim Blanton invites you to follow us on Twitter @SquaredAwayBC. To stay current on our blog, please join our free email list. You’ll receive just one email each week – with links to the two new posts for that week – when you sign up here.  

Ken Pidcock

To the extent that such programs increase sensitivity to challenges that may be faced by first generation college students, they are to be commended. To the extent that they are accompanied by a presumption that first generation college students are categorically less prepared for advanced study than their peers, they are to be condemned.

Cynthia Crawford

Sad to say, a college education may no longer be people’s ticket to a better life. Take a look at the St. Louis Federal Reserve reports on their website. Is college still worth it? Their conference raises some troubling conclusions (based on research and data.)

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