This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

First Steps for First Gen: An exploration of the experiences of first generation college students during the formal processes of enrolling in higher education




Moran, Allison

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation


Education Foundation, Leadership, and Technology


The Center for First Generation College Student Success (2020) defined first generation college students (FGCS) as, “an undergraduate student whose parents do not have a bachelor’s or higher degree.” FGCS have to navigate many aspects of college without parent(s) who have experienced college themselves. After applying and being accepted to college, FGCS must engage in the formal process of enrolling in college. Requirements for the formal process of enrolling in college vary from institution to institution, but some common requirements include financial requirements, attending orientation programs, fulfilling on-campus housing responsibilities, and providing medical documents (Baumhardt & Reilly, n.d.; Graham et al., 2018; Nelson, 2021). This qualitative study sought to better understand the experiences of FGCS during the process of enrolling in college. Information was collected through semi-structured interviews with FGCS at a large, public, four-year institution. The institution is designated as a First-Gen Forward campus from the CFGSS. Participants included 18 FGCS that were enrolled at the institution at the time of the study. These 18 participants were selected through convenience sampling and snowball sampling. Numerous theoretical perspectives were explored throughout this study including: cultural capital, social capital, family capital and family attitudes, social identity, Maslow’s (1943) Hierarchy of Needs, Astin’s (1984) Theory of Involvement, and Schlossberg’s (1981) Transition Theory. A guiding theme through many of these theoretical perspectives is the importance of support and mattering (Spieger & Bednarek, 2013).