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Articles / Applying to College / Is Adopted Student Considered "First Generation"?

Is Adopted Student Considered "First Generation"?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | June 19, 2013

Question: I have a question about what qualifies as first generation. My mom and dad both graduated from college, but I am adopted. My birth father is unknown and my birth mother did not even finish high school. I know this is not this is not how most people look at this situation but adoption has made this a gray area. I personally see myself as a first generation college kid because I will be the first in my biological family to go to college. When you are adopted you don’t have the same family connections. Your biological family and adopted family both affect you medically, legally, socially, and in some cases psychologically. This is why I believe that first generation should include your biological family because my birth mother not finishing school has greatly impacted how hard I have pushed myself in high school and my determination to go to college.

This is a very good question and one that “The Dean” has not answered before. You have touched on an area where the waters can get pretty muddy.

For starters, the definition of “First Generation” is not clear-cut. Administrators at some colleges, and at various other educational and scholarship programs, will insist that “First Generation” refers to any student whose parents have had no education whatsoever beyond high school.

However, many colleges (etc.) will consider a student to be First Generation if no parent has earned a bachelor’s degree. (So, in these cases, a student whose mother or father earned a two-year degree is still viewed as “First Gen.”)

Typically, this determination is based on the educational background of the parent or parents with whom the student resides. But, again, there is gray area. For instance, if a student lives with a mother who never attended college but this child regularly sees her divorced dad who is a doctor, the college will probably not consider this girl to be “First Gen.” But, conversely, if an applicant lives with a mom who didn’t even finish high school and a college-educated stepfather, this student might be considered First-Gen anyway, especially if the mother’s marriage is fairly recent.

If you were legally adopted, your adoptive parents’ education will most likely push you out of the “First Generation’ category. However, because the waters that swirl around this issue are indeed so muddy, you can certainly try to make a case for your First-Generation status, if you feel that it will help your college admission or scholarship chances.

When you apply to college, this could be a good topic for your application essay. When admission officials read it, they can decide for themselves if they will treat you as First Generation, according to their own school’s policies. Were you a baby when you were adopted or were you older? Do you continue to have regular contact with your biological family? Your answers to these questions may be factors that college officials will consider when determining your status.

However, if you plan to apply for “outside scholarships” (those that don’t come directly from the colleges themselves) that are specifically for First Gen students, you will need to explain your circumstances to the scholarship committee to make sure that you are eligible. (Chances are, you won’t be.)

Finally, as noted above, even if the colleges and scholarship programs on your list will not consider you as an official “First Generation” applicant, your story about how you have pushed yourself to be the first in your biological family to go to college could still be a perfect topic for an essay and might even help you to be admitted to schools where you are a borderline applicant.

I am posting this query on the College Confidential discussion forum to see if other CC members have more experience and expertise in this area than I do.

Good luck to you as you take these next steps.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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