Many people who attend college have had someone in their family attend college before them. It is of course easier for people to make life choices if someone they trust made similar decisions before them because these trusted people can provide advice and guidance on how to proceed. However, there are student debt issues of first-generation students about which people should be aware so that they can help ensure that first-generation students are more successful in their pursuits.
I am not really a first-generation college student, my mother went to college, but my father did not. Because of health reasons, my mother was not really around for much of my later childhood, and I was primarily raised during this time by my father and grandparents, who did not attend college. This experience gave me empathy for student debt issues of first-generation students.
One of the most important student debt issues of first-generation students is that they may receive poor information about higher education and student loans. Many people in older generations have misconceptions about student loans. For instance, some people may think that education is the key to a higher income, and it is fine to borrow any amount of student debt so that you can score a higher-paid job. Such people may believe that individuals will have no issue paying off student loans after they secure a job that pays a higher salary because of their education.
In reality, education is not necessarily the key to obtaining a higher-paid job and this is a major one of the student debt issues of first-generation students. There are a variety of high-income careers that can be pursued without borrowing student loans. In addition, there are all types of academic programs, and enrollment in a given academic program does not mean that you will necessarily earn a higher salary. Individuals need to be deliberate with their student debt choices and should not believe that borrowing debt to obtain an academic credential is always a good idea that will lead to higher pay.
Another one of the student debt issues of first-generation students is that they may have less guidance about securing financial aid. Many first-generation students may not know that financial aid is available at a number of schools to help defray educational expenses. In addition, first-generation students may not know the process for obtaining financial aid.
When I worked at AmeriCorps, we specifically taught the participants in our summer-enrichment program how to fill out a college application and how to apply for financial aid. Without this help, the participants might not have had a mentor to turn to in order to obtain information about applying to schools and securing the most financial assistance possible. I am lucky that I am a triplet and had brothers going through the college admissions process at the same time as me, which helped me stay on track when applying for financial aid. However, students who do not have this resource may have a difficult time securing financial aid to attend college or graduate school.
Another one of the student debt issues of first-generation students is that their families may not have saved enough or any money for their children to attend college. As many readers know from firsthand experience, it oftentimes requires years of planning and saving in order to build a solid college fund for a child. This is because the impact of compounding interest can only be experienced over a large amount of time and individuals need to start saving as early as possible in order to have the best impact.
If no one in a family enrolled in college previously, parents or other relatives may not know how important it is to save for college early on. Indeed, one of the reasons why my family did not save to pay for the college costs for my triplet brothers and me is because my dad and grandparents did not go to college and did not know how to prepare for the financial impact of college. In any event, college funds established by parents is an important way to pay for college and first-generation students may not have the benefit of such funds as much as students who come from families with more experience with college.
A further one of the student debt issues of first-generation students is that they may have less emotional support from people when going through the student loan process. Borrowing student debt and paying it off can be a draining process since students need to make sacrifices and dig deep in order to pay off their student debt. It can be scary and dauting for students to go through the student loan process without any support from their friends and family since it is easy to lose morale on your student debt journey. Having a relative who has gone through this process can provide invaluable support, which can make it easier to deal with student loans.
All told, there are a variety of student debt issues of first-generation students and student loans can be particularly difficult for this class of people. It is important that people recognize the struggles of first-generation students so that this classification of students can be supported so that they have more success in borrowing and paying off student loans.