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Articles / Admissions / Is it Legal to Ask about First-Generation Status?

April 27, 2020

Is it Legal to Ask about First-Generation Status?

Question: Is it legal to ask if a student is a first generation college student on a scholarship application?

It's never occurred to “The Dean" to question the legality of such a query, and I'm not an attorney so I can't imagine what law it might violate. Admission officials and scholarship-organization administrators typically gather a lot information about their candidates, and they endeavor to see these candidates in the context of their backgrounds. So asking if either parent attended college is one way to learn more about an applicant although, of course, the answers don't always tell the whole story.


Some scholarships, as you probably know, are earmarked specifically for first-generation students so certainly those applications must inquire about the parents' education. Thus it doesn't seem illegal–or unreasonable—to ask if a student is first-generation. But, as I said above, I'm not a lawyer ... and, when it comes right down to it, I'm not even a dean either. ;-)

I'll post this on the College Confidential forum to see if any legal eagles weigh in.

Written by

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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