Guide for Families of First-Generation Students
Is college a new experience in your family?
If so, the person in your family who is attending college could be called a first-generation college student. And that person (whether it is your son or daughter, your grandchild, or even your spouse) is in good company. There are many highly intelligent and successful college graduates whose parents did not have the opportunity to attend or complete college.
Some you may have heard of are:
- Michelle Obama (Attorney, author, Former First Lady of the U.S.)
- Margaret Thatcher (Former British Prime Minister)
- Oprah Winfrey (Founder of OWN network, actress, once the wealthiest woman in the world, despite having grown up in poverty)
- Walt Disney (Founder of Disney Corporation)
- Albert Einstein (Physicist who made groundbreaking discoveries, including splitting the atom and relativity)
- Larry King (Host of the long-running television talk show, “Larry King Live”)
- Ruth Bader Ginsberg (Deceased U.S. Supreme Court Justice)
- Clarence Thomas (U.S. Supreme Court Justice)
- Ben Carson (Famous neurosurgeon who was first to safely separate twins conjoined at the brain, former HUD secretary)
- Colin Powell (Former U.S. Secretary of State, former diplomat, retired four-star general)
As a parent, guardian, grandparent, spouse, or other person who is close to someone who is or soon will be attending college, you are probably wondering about a lot of things. This guide aims to offer answers to some of the questions that commonly arise as family members try to help new college students begin their journey in higher education.
Frequently Asked Questions
Education improves a person’s quality of life in many respects. More education can lead to greater satisfaction with one’s life and career. On average, those who graduate from college tend to live longer, enjoy better health, and earn more money than those who do not. They are also less likely to be unemployed or to need public assistance than non-degree holders. In addition, college graduates are less likely than those without degrees to become incarcerated during their lifetimes and are more likely to maintain stable marriages and own their own homes than those have not completed college [i].
While the benefits of college are great for bachelor’s degree-holders, those who complete Associate Degrees also experience better outcomes, on average, in all of these areas, than those who attain only a high school diploma[ii].
[i] Statistical data from U.S. Census Bureau, Current Issues in Economics (Abel and Deitz), 2014, v.20 n.3, and It’s Not Just the Money: The Benefits of College Education to Individuals & Society, Lumina Foundation Issue Paper (Trostel), 2018.
[ii] Turk, Jonathan M. A Look at Five Key Outcomes in Early Adulthood for Associate Degree Earners and It’s Not Just the Money: The Benefits of College Education to Individuals & Society, Lumina Foundation Issue Paper (Trostel), 2018
Most students use financial aid, in the form of grants, scholarships, and federal direct student loans to cover much of the cost of getting a college education.
You can learn more about how to finance a college education on the NH Higher Education Assistance Foundation’s website.
Students can apply for federal financial aid by filling out the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA).
To send your FAFSA info to GBCC, use school code: 002583
In addition to filing the FAFSA on the web, there are a number of scholarships for which students can apply online to help cover costs. One can get started on locating and applying for some of those here.
Employed students should also ask their employers if tuition reimbursement is available. Employers of family members (especially parents) and clubs and organizations to which individuals and families belong (such as churches and civic organizations) may also offer scholarships. Students should contact all such organizations to find out if there are scholarships available and how they may apply.
Other sources of funds may include publicly-funded programs that assist individuals in improving their employability. If your family or your student participates in publicly-funded programs to receive benefits such as TANF, housing, free or reduced school lunches, or SNAP, you should inquire as to whether there are funds available to help pay for postsecondary education. Individuals enrolled the Granite Advantage Healthcare Program or NH Medicaid may be eligible to receive assistance with education that can lead to better jobs through WorkNowNH. More information can be found here.
Students with disabilities who have an open case with Vocational Rehabilitation should discuss their educational plans with a case manager to find out whether assistance is available for career-related education to supplement federal student aid.
Students who are veterans or who have a parent who is a veteran should talk with their Veterans’ Administration counselor about educational benefits that may be available to them.
The U.S. Department of Education provides funding in the form of grants and low interest loans for eligible students at thousands of colleges and universities throughout the country. To be considered for that aid (and even for certain scholarships), students must complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Student Aid). Department of Education rules currently require students under the age of 24 to provide parents’ financial information. Most students under age 24 are considered dependents of their parents, even if they do not live with their parents and are not claimed as dependents on their parents’ income tax returns.
Students who are required to provide parental information and fail to do so will not be considered for needs-based grant eligibility or subsidized loans. Therefore, if you are a parent of a student who is under 24 and does not meet one of the criteria that would allow him or her to be considered independent, the single most important thing you can do to help your student get a college education is to provide the family financial information that will make it possible to determine whether your student is eligible for a grant, a subsidized federal loan, and/or Work-Study funding. The Department of Education and Great Bay Community College will keep the information confidential and will use it to determine your student’s eligibility for grants, needs-based scholarships, and other aid.
The Cost of Attendance at college includes not only tuition, fees, and books, it also involves shelter and utilities, food, transportation, and, where applicable, childcare. The challenge of meeting all of these expenses while studying for a degree is a significant one for many.
Part-Time Jobs / Work Study Programs
It is common for college students to work part-time while they study for their degrees. It is important for college students who do work to be sure that their employers are willing to accommodate their scheduling needs. College students need time for classes, study, and homework, as well as to meet other requirements for their degree program, such as clinical or practicum hours.
There are some student jobs available on campus to students who meet all qualifications. Wages for most of these jobs are partially funded through federal work study funds, which are available to students based on financial need. Financially eligible students are not guaranteed work study employment, as job openings are limited. Students interested in applying for Work Study positions can learn more about work-study and view job listings on Great Bay’s Student Aid Page.
Controlling Living Costs
Keeping living costs under control is a key consideration for college success. Excessive financial pressure can get in the way of a student’s commitment to studying and attending classes. Therefore, some of the learning that many college students do involves the discovery of resources that are available to keep their living expenses manageable. Learning when, where, and how to ask for help is also an important life skill. No student is an island.
We encourage you to help your family member, if you have the means, by offering a place to stay, meals, help with transportation, assistance with incidental expenses, and, if necessary, childcare.
Some families experience financial constraints that make it impossible to provide much practical support to the person in the family who is attending college. After a student completes the FAFSA, the Department of Education provides students with information about the Expected Family Contribution or EFC. If your student’s EFC is at or near “0,” this is an indication that the student and family’s financial resources are recognized to be inadequate to support the student. This situation is more common than you may think.
If your family is not able to provide a lot of the basics to your student, there are still things you can do to be supportive.
One thing you can do in this situation is to help your family member locate and use community resources.
Enrolled students who need additional assistance in locating and obtaining needed resources are also welcome to consult Great Bay’s Community Resource Coach, Julie Dockery, at JDockery@ccsnh.edu, for more information.
As discussed above, the costs of attending college include not only tuition and fees, but books, materials, technology needs, transportation, general living expenses (like room & board), and (if the student is a parent) childcare. Sometimes grant and scholarship aid falls short of students’ needs in all of these areas. While many students work to help with their expenses, working too many hours or at a job where scheduling or location is inconvenient can interfere with college success.
Although some students have family members who can help them by providing free room and board, help with transportation, and assistance with other costs, not every student will be able to close the gap between the cost of attending college and their scholarship and grant aid. Those students may opt to use student loans to meet some of their expenses. The federal Stafford Loan program is a significant source of aid for those students. Although federally subsidized loans offer very favorable terms to students who qualify, students should learn all that they can about student loans before accepting a student loan.
This online guide, developed by the U.S. Department of Education, explains how student aid works, including student loans.
Personnel at Great Bay’s Financial Aid office can answer specific questions about any grants, scholarships, and loans that are offered through the college as part of your student’s financial aid package.
Students can contact the Financial Aid Department at: firstname.lastname@example.org
A person’s aptitudes, interests, and career goals are all important considerations in choosing a major.
GBCC’s online Career Coach offers a great way to get started in linking one’s interests to both a career goal and an academic major.
As a community college, Great Bay is able to offer Associate degrees as well as shorter programs of study that result, not in a degree, but a certificate.
An Associate Degree typically requires the completion of a 60+credit college curriculum.
A full-time student who enrolls for at least 15 credits a semester can complete an Associate Degree in two years.
Full-time study, however, is typically more time consuming than a full-time job. A full-time college student who is enrolled in 15 credits of coursework may spend as much as 60 hours per week on classes and homework. Some students, therefore, enroll for fewer than 15 credits and then take summer classes and/or spend an extra semester, an extra year (or more, if necessary) to successfully complete an associate degree. While a minimum of 12 credits is required for a student to be considered full-time, students who enroll for 12 credits during the fall and spring semesters cannot complete a degree in two years unless they take courses in the summer as well.
Some students are able to study for and take CLEP (College Level Examination Program) tests to get some of the college credit necessary for their degrees. Students considering CLEP testing should discuss the option with their academic advisors to determine whether this is a good choice for them and, if so, which courses could be completed that way.
Another way that students can make timely progress toward their degrees is to participate in dual enrollment programs that allow them to earn college and high school credits for the same course. Parents (or guardians) of high school students who are planning for college, may want to talk with a guidance counselor about whether Great Bay’s Running Start, Early College, and/or e-college program would be a good choice for their student.
Many students at GBCC transfer to other colleges and universities, both public and private, in New Hampshire and in other states.
GBCC students who plan to continue their education beyond the Associate Degree level should work closely with their advisors to ensure that any decisions they make in the short term are consistent with their long-term goals.
While many degree programs at GBCC are accessible to anyone with a high school diploma or its equivalent, some programs, like Nursing, can accept only a limited number of students each year and have special requirements for admission (specific high-school prerequisites, examination scores, letters of recommendation, etc.). Not every student who applies will necessarily be accepted the first time.
Sometimes, being admitted to the degree program of one’s choice is a process. Improving skills and test scores, taking prerequisite courses, and completing some college courses are concrete steps that students can take to move toward the goal of acceptance into a selective degree program. A quick look at the Courses of Study outlined in the college catalog will reveal that there are certain courses that are required for most degrees. Courses like English Composition, Quantitative Reasoning, Critical Thinking, and Introduction to Psychology are among those that are useful and required for many different degrees.
Time and effort invested in taking prerequisite courses, improving foundational skills in areas like writing, math, critical thinking, and computer literacy through tutoring, and taking general education courses, is always well spent. All students should meet with an advisor at GBCC before selecting their courses to discuss their goals. Our advisors help students to identify courses that will help them advance on their chosen path. Once enrolled in courses, students can access support services, like tutoring, academic coaching, and, where needed, disability-related support, at CAPS.
Even if a student ends up changing her or his goal, time spent improving academic skills and taking general education courses is never wasted. The skills gained and credits earned can often be put toward a different degree.
During a 16-week semester, the typical 3-credit course involves about three hours of class time each week. College students should plan to spend 2-3 hours per credit hour doing homework (including reading, studying, writing, and conducting library research or working on projects). Therefore, the average 3-credit course, if taken during a full-length 16-week semester, requires a commitment of 9 to 12 hours each week. If that same course is taken over a shorter period, the workload is even heavier. An 8-week, 3-credit course would require 18 to 24 hours of combined class and homework time. If taken over twelve weeks, a 12 to 16 hour per week commitment would be needed to maximize learning and performance in a 3-credit course.
With full-time college study involving a minimum of 12 credits per semester, full-time college students have the equivalent of a full-time job (or more) to do, just to ensure good grades and sound learning.
Since students are awarded 3 credits for most courses, it may be helpful to refer to the following to get a sense of the time commitment your student is making during a typical 16-week semester:
- 3 credits = 9-12 hours per week (3 hours in class, plus 6-9 hours of homework)
- 6 credits = 18-24 hours per week (6 hours in class, plus 12-18 hours of homework)
- 9 credits = 27-36 hours per week (9 hours in class, plus 18-27 hours of homework)
- 12 credits = 36-48 hours per week (12 hours in class, plus 24-36 hours of homework)
- 15 credits = 45-60 hours per week (15 hours in class, plus 30-45 hours of homework)
As the information above makes clear, even though course scheduling can be arranged at convenient times for people with family and work responsibilities, getting a college degree is not something that people can realistically expect do on their spare time. Priority must be given to class and homework schedules.
The Center for Academic Planning and Support (CAPS)
CAPS is located on the second floor of the Pease campus and offers an array of free student support services to students enrolled in credit-bearing courses at GBCC to achieve maximum learning.
Academic coaches can support students in developing strategies for success as well. Students can request academic coaching by emailing CAPS at email@example.com or by scheduling an appointment through Navigate.
Students enrolled in credit bearing courses at Great Bay can sign up for in-person and virtual tutoring appointments here.
Enrolled students can also access Smarthinking Online Tutoring from their Canvas course homepage. Learn more about Smarthinking here.
PLATOweb is a free skill-building online resource for students. Once they complete an Application for Admission, students can use test preparation resources (ACCUPLACER and TEAS) on PLATOweb. Other activities on PLATOweb can be made available to students once they enroll in classes.
Project GRAD (Goals, Results, Aspirations, and Distinction) Mentoring Program
Many college freshmen can benefit from the experience, friendship, and support of a second- year student with an established record of academic success. Project GRAD mentors receive special training and professional supervision in locating scholarship and community resource information, college technology use, techniques for managing coursework, identifying academic support needs, and career planning.
A small number of new students are accepted each year to participate in this program designed to smooth the path to academic and career success.
For more information about Project GRAD, students can contact Brittanie Mulkigian, Director of Student Life at BMulkigian@ccsnh.edu.
Attend orientation with your student.
Attend college-sponsored events with your student.
Keep in mind that, during the semester, time is precious to college students. Help with time management and, if possible, take over, help, or encourage other family members to help with responsibilities that may conflict with course schedules or prevent your student from completing coursework on time.
Student Support Services
Encourage your student to use student support services, such as tutoring, academic coaching, mentoring, and, if needed, disability support.
Getting involved in activities on campus can help students build skills and form relationships that may contribute to career development and academic success. Great Bay offers on-campus and virtual activities such as field trips, movie nights, and drop-in events (such as pizza parties and cookouts) that are intended engage students and build a sense of community on campus. There are also clubs, sports, and other student organizations that can further build a student’s resume and develop important, non-academic skills to support educational, career, and personal success.
Encourage your student to learn more about how to get involved here:
Consider trying a class yourself!
If you do not have a college degree, you may want to consider trying out some college courses yourself, and maybe even completing a degree or certificate. Even taking one class to explore a subject of interest to you or taking up a non-credit course of study (offered in our Business and Training Center) for professional development can improve your confidence, your skills, and give you some insight into your family member’s new interests and responsibilities.
Students who have disabilities and believe that disability support and/or accommodations would be helpful should contact our Coordinator of Disability Support Services, Karen Frisbie at KFrisbie@ccsnh.edu, after enrolling in classes.
Note: Those who believe they will need accommodations for placement testing should get in touch beforehand
If you are a parent or guardian who has participated in Special Education Planning Meetings during high school, you may be surprised to find that disability services are provided much differently in college.
In high school, some students with disabilities are provided with Individual Education Programs that may address their needs through curriculum modifications, where appropriate. High schools may take the initiative to identify and assess the needs of students with disabilities as well as to apprise staff and faculty of the modifications and accommodations in an IEP. A 504 Plan does not change the expectations (modify) but offers equal access to education for the student through accommodations.
In college, students with disabilities will not be served through an Individual Education Program (IEP), but a student with a disability may develop a Reasonable Accommodation Plan (RAP) with the Coordinator of Disability Support Services. A RAP may include accommodations to make college activities, facilities, course participation, course content, and assessments accessible to the student. A RAP will not modify curriculum or course content, but may outline accommodations in instruction and assessment methods and/or adaptive technology that can be used to help a student with a documented disability to learn, take tests, and participate in a course.
While IEP and 504 Plan meetings in high school are school-initiated, usually include parents or guardians, and aim to provide support services in a family and student-centered manner, disability services in college are student-initiated and student-centered.
If students want to invite a parent to join them in a meeting with the Disability Services Coordinator, they may do so, but parents do not receive invitations and updates from the college about Reasonable Accommodation Planning meetings. If students want any college staff to be able to communicate any information about their status, progress, or plans to a parent, they must provide written consent. This is true regardless of the student’s age.
Also, unlike high school students, college students who are seeking accommodations must provide recent (typically within 3 years) documentation of their disability and how it affects their major life activities. The college does not provide or fund these assessment services.
Furthermore, students are responsible for providing a copy of their list of approved accommodations to any faculty member who teaches a class in which they plan to use accommodations. Without this document, faculty will be unable to provide accommodations.
Families often worry about whether a person who is attending college will “use” her or his degree. This is a valid concern. Most people need to learn how to show prospective employers what they have to offer, college graduates included.
GBCC offers many resources to help students pursue the career goals that led a lot of them to college in the first place. The Capstone, Internship, Service Learning, and Senior Seminar courses that are included in many of our degree programs can help students develop resumes and gain work experience in their chosen career. In addition, students can make an appointment with someone in our Career Center for help with career planning, resume development, and job searches by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Students and community members are also welcome to use the Job Board on the GBCC website to locate job openings, Career Coach software to identify career interests, and the free, WorkReadyNH class (which typically takes about three weeks to complete and is offered in-person and online) to plan and prepare for the next job on a career path.
Academic Year – At GBCC, the academic year runs from late August of one year until mid- August of the following year. GBCC’s academic year consists of three terms: Fall semester, spring semester, and summer semester.
Accuplacer Test – A test offered at CAPS that can help students and their advisors to ensure that they enroll in classes at the appropriate level in subjects like English, math, and computer technology. Accuplacer testing can help students to avoid taking classes that they don’t need as well as to identify areas where additional instruction would be helpful.
Find out about test scheduling and procedures by emailing email@example.com.
If your student needs testing accommodations because of a disability, he or she can contact our Disabilities Services Coordinator, Karen Frisbie, at: KFrisbie@ccsnh.edu.
Articulation Agreement – A formal partnership between two colleges that can help create a seamless transfer process for students.
Great Bay Community College does have some articulation agreements with various public and private colleges and universities. However, not all degree programs transfer seamlessly from one institution to another.
Therefore, students planning to transfer credits from GBCC to another college should work closely with their advisors when selecting courses to ensure that they understand (and plan for) if, where, and how their credits can be transferred.
Book Advance – Money paid directly to the college bookstore from a student’s financial aid for books and materials. A student can choose to have some financial aid money (if there will be any funds leftover after tuition and fees) paid directly to the college bookstore to cover the cost of purchases. Students who wish to use a book advance must complete a Book Advance Authorization form on the Student Information System before making their bookstore purchases.
College Catalog – Great Bay Community College’s catalog is a multi-page, comprehensive document that provides information about the college’s programs, degree requirements, courses, student services and policies. Information on college facilities and individual departments is also included. A new college catalog is issued for each academic year.
Corequisite – A course that a student is required to participate in while enrolled in another course.
Credit Hour – Each course is assigned a certain number of credit hours, corresponding to how much work is involved in completing the course. Most classes earn a student 3 or 4 credit hours.
Curriculum – All of the courses that must be successfully completed in order to earn a degree constitute the curriculum, or course of study, for that degree.
Developmental Course – A course that a student can take to prepare for a college level course. Developmental courses are sometimes needed to develop the skills required to benefit from a higher-level course or in order to satisfy a pre-requisite. At GBCC, developmental course codes begin with the digit “0” (rather than a “1” or a “2”.)
Although students can use their financial aid money to pay for developmental courses, those courses cannot be used to meet degree requirements. Students can test out of developmental courses in subjects like reading, writing, math, and computer skills.
Those who have not taken all of the prerequisite high school courses needed for their program of study can either take them as developmental courses at GBCC or complete them at an area adult high school diploma program.
Dual Admission – Refers to being accepted into more than one degree program at one time. Students interested in dual admission with GBCC and one of the colleges or universities within the University System of New Hampshire (USNH) should discuss this option with an advisor before enrolling in courses.
Dual Enrollment – Refers to a class where a student can earn two types of credit for the same course. GBCC offers dual enrollment courses through Early College, Running Start, and E-Credit programs, where high school students can earn college credit that can also be used to meet their high school diploma requirements.
FERPA — Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records.
Financial Aid — Financial support that students receive for college expenses. Some financial aid, such as loans, must be repaid, while other forms, such as grants, scholarships, and Work-Study earnings, do not need to be paid back. Collectively all the financial aid that students are offered is known as their financial aid package.
Financial Aid Award Letter — A letter that describes the financial aid package that the college is able to offer a student. A prospective college student will receive a letter from the financial aid office of the college after that student has submitted a FAFSA and has been accepted into a degree program. Students receive a new Financial Aid Award Letter for each academic year, after completing the FAFSA.
At GBCC, Financial Aid Award Letters are now delivered electronically, on the Student Information System. Students can read their letter and choose which types of aid to accept and which, if any, they do not want.
First generation college student — A college student is typically described as a first-generation college student if neither of that person’s parents completed a bachelor’s degree before the student reached age 18.
Full-time student – At Great Bay, students enrolled in a minimum of 12 credits during a semester are considered full-time students.
General Education Courses – Courses that are required for most undergraduate (Associate and Bachelor) degrees, regardless of major, such as English Composition and Quantitative Reasoning.
Half-time student – At Great Bay, students enrolled in at least 6 credits during a semester are considered half-time students.
Matriculating Student — At GBCC, we refer to a student who is enrolled in a degree or credit-bearing certificate program as “matriculating.”
Non-Credit Courses – Short-term courses that offer training in specific skills (typically related to career goals). Students usually receive a certificate upon completion of a non-credit course of study, but will not receive college credit for participation in such courses.
Non-Matriculating Student – A student who is taking classes, but who has not been accepted into a degree or credit-bearing certificate program.
Placement Test – A test that helps students choose the best courses for them. GBCC offers the Accuplacer at CAPS.
Prerequisite – A requirement that must be met before a student can register for a course or be admitted to a particular program of study. Prerequisites are usually courses that need to be taken and passed (typically with a grade of C or better) or tests on which students must achieve a particular score to meet the requirement.
Postsecondary Education – Any program of study that requires the completion of high school (by earning a diploma or its equivalent) for admission.
While students may take college courses at GBCC before completing high school (through programs like Running Start or Early College courses), students may not be admitted to a degree program (or a credit-bearing certificate program) until they have completed high school. Students who apply for admission to college degree programs before completing high school may receive a conditional acceptance, which requires them to complete high school before their acceptance into a program is finalized.
Residency Requirement — A requirement for how many credits must be earned at a particular college in order for a student to qualify for a degree issued by that institution. This is often a concern of students who intend to transfer credit into the college and/or meet some of their degree requirements through CLEP testing. At GBCC, a minimum of 25 percent of the credits applied toward a degree issued by the college must earned through courses taken at the college. In addition, at least 8 of the credits applied to Associate Degree graduation requirements must be advanced level courses specific to that student’s major.
Semester — The time period during which courses are offered. GBCC offers 16-week fall and spring semesters, and a shorter summer semester.
Note: Some courses are shorter than a full-length semester. They may begin after the semester has started or end before the semester is over. These accelerated courses require more class and homework time each week than a 16-week course would. More info on this here.
Syllabus– A document provided to students in a course by the instructor that outlines important course information, including a course description, schedule, required books or other materials, assignments, due dates, grading scale, expectations, procedures, and policies. At GBCC, syllabi (the plural of syllabus) are posted on the Canvas course site for each course in which a student is enrolled. Students should locate, save, and print this document so that they can refer to it throughout the semester as they plan their activities and schedule their coursework.
Transfer – Students who transfer apply credit earned at one college toward degree requirements in another college. Whether and how credits transfer from one institution to another depends upon the policies and discretion of the receiving institution.
Undergraduate student – A student who is enrolled in courses that can lead to an associate’s and/or a bachelor’s degree.
Student clubs and organizations