Feb. 10, 2012
Question: How much does being, "first generation" help in getting into various schools? Does it help more in the selective schools than in the mid range school? And is it a "tipping" factor or is it more significant?
I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that being first-gen means more in a selective college than in a "mid-range" institution. That's because the snazzier places have drawn students from well-heeled families for generations and are seeking diversity, while the less-celebrated schools are more apt to attract those from more modest means, which can often include the first-gen applicants.
Typically being first-gen carries the most clout when the admission folks feel that the student will bring the aforementioned diversity to campus. In other words, the child of a middle-class real estate agent and an insurance salesman who never earned four-year degrees may not offer as much admissions "currency" as the offspring of factory workers, hotel maids, or coal miners.
Most colleges, however (highly selective or not) will evaluate their candidates in the context of both where they go to high school and their home environment. So if a first-gen applicant has test scores that are slightly below the norm or perhaps didn't select the most demanding classes or take part in exotic extracurricular activities, admission officials will allow some wiggle room. They understand that these students may not have had the same exposure--or push--at home that the children of college grads have had.
Colleges' efforts to recruit and admit first-gen students can vary from school to school and even from year to year, as enrollment statistics wax and wane. Thus, the pluses of being first-gen may be greater at some of your child's target schools than at others. But these pluses rarely compare with those that come from being a strong athlete or an underrepresented minority student (although being first-gen AND a minority student or athlete can be a biggie)
Overall, in response to your question, I'd have to go with "tipping factor" rather than "significant" hook, but --as in most things admissions-related--you shouldn't expect consistency across the board.
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