The growth of online colleges and universities has made higher education significantly more flexible and accessible. Many of the students taking advantage of this opportunity are adults returning to school to begin or complete their degrees, and many also are first-generation college students. As the first members of their families to attend college, these students must learn to independently navigate the world of college applications, financial aid forms, course catalogs and degree requirements. Their challenges are unique, but today's colleges provide a vast collection of resources to help them. If you're a first-generation college student, familiarizing yourself with your school's programs and services can help smooth the transition and improve your likelihood of success.
Colleges and universities want their students to succeed. Whether you're attending an online college or a traditional brick-and-mortar school, you'll likely find the offerings address a wide range of common concerns. Here are some services you'll be likely to encounter that you should be sure to take advantage of:
- The library: There was a time when computers and internet access weren't as readily available as they were today. Laptops and desktop computers have facilitated the process of typing papers and completing research, two tasks libraries used to fulfill. And like almost everything else about the college experience, libraries are online too, offering curriculum-specific resources. Remember that for students, your university's online library can be a better choice than relying solely on the Internet for research.
- Career services: Even if you have many credits to complete, it's never too early to visit your school's Career Services office to begin exploring the resources available to help you break into your chosen career. The Career Advantage Program (CAP) is the cornerstone of AIU's Career Services office. CAP features career planning assistance, career coaching, résumé assistance and networking support. These offerings are commonly found in most university career service offices.
- Office hours: Professors are often required to offer a certain number of office hours per week. If you're a first generation student and find yourself struggling with a concept you learned in class, attending office hours might be your best solution. It can be challenging to get all your questions answered during a class, but office hours will give you one-on-one time that's otherwise hard to get. Office hours aren't only available to students attending brick-and-mortar schools. Virtual office hours allow you to get personal assistance with an academic matter from home.
- Advisors: Your student advisor will ideally be a strong advocate for you. Advisors provide another form of support and by helping you choose the courses you need to meet degree requirements. They can also help you resolve any academic issues by providing expert advice. Talking with your advisor should become a regular part of your schedule, and this article suggests some key issues for discussion.
Finally, identifying a strategy for financing your education might prove your biggest concern as you embark on your quest to earn your degree. Examining your financial aid options may seem overwhelming, but your school's financial aid office is the ideal place to start. In researching grants and scholarships for first-generation college students, first explore your university's offerings to see if there are options for which you may qualify. You also may explore reputable third-party resources such as Fastweb to help you identify and organize possibilities you may want to apply to. (Remember that you should never have to pay to apply for a grant or scholarship.)
For first-generation students, success in school begins with drive, dedication and the full utilization of all the resources at hand. Embracing this approach can get you off to a great start on your higher education journey.
Ready to learn more? Explore online degrees at AIU.