Who is a First-Generation College Student?

18/12/2020

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase, “first-generation college student?” If you aren’t one yourself, you may not have a very clear picture. The broadest description of a first-generation college student is a student whose family does not have a college-going tradition

Rather than further defining them, we’d like to showcase how many first-generation college students have defined themselves.

Ben Carson

ben carson
Ben Carson

While he is known as the first to perform the separation of craniopagus twins conjoined at the back of the head, Ben Carson was also one of the first in his family to go to college.

“Education is the fundamental principle of what makes America a success. It is the foundation of what truly makes our country ‘the Land of Opportunity.’” May 2015.

Ben Carson was born in Detroit and raised to love reading and education by his mother. He studied hard to earn his bachelor’s degree at Yale University and then his M.D. at the University of Michigan Medical School. Serving as Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center for 33 years, he was also the youngest major division director in the hospital’s history at 33 years old. 

Ben Carson joined forces with his spouse to co-found the Carson Scholars Fund, an organization that recognizes individuals of all backgrounds for exceptional academic and humanitarian accomplishments. The Carson Scholars Fund currently operates in 50 states and the District of Columbia and has recognized more than 7,300 scholars and awarded more than $7.3 million in scholarships.

Michelle Obama

A tremendous supporter of students breaking traditions, Michelle Obama is a first-generation college student that has used her platform to motivate the masses.

Born Michelle LaVaughn Robinson in Chicago, Illinois, Michelle was raised with an emphasis on education, learning to read at home by age four. She was even enrolled in her city’s first magnet high school for gifted children, Whitney M. Young Magnet High School. Michelle attended Princeton University and obtained an undergraduate degree in Sociology. Moving on to Harvard Law School, she took part in demonstrations calling for the enrollment and hiring of more minority students and professors before being awarded her J.D. in 1988.

She took leave from her position at the University of Chicago to campaign for her husband, Barack Obama. In 2008, she assumed the role of First Lady of the United States for two terms by her husband’s side. After exiting her role in the white house, she lent her creativity and intelligence to the composition of a novel about her experiences in the public eye and growing into the person she is today.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

File:Ruth Bader Ginsburg 2000.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Did you know Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a first-generation college student? 

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s mother instilled in her a passion for education. She influenced her to obtain a bachelor’s degree at Cornell University, where she graduated first in her class at Columbia Law. Some years later, she reentered the education landscape upon becoming a professor at Rutgers University Law School in 1963, a position she held before deciding to teach at Columbia in 1972. 

“Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Directing the influential Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union in the 1970s, Ruth led the fight against gender discrimination and argued six monumental cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1980, Ginsburg accepted Jimmy Carter’s appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. She served on the court for thirteen years until Bill Clinton nominated her to the United States Supreme Court in 1993.

By promoting a multi-dimensional view of First-Generation College Students, we create more positive visibility and increased opportunities for individuals venturing into new experiences. Ruth, Ben, and Michelle all once stood at a crossroads trying to determine the path they were going to take in life. Today, they have inspired many to believe in their inherent ability to grow and attain success, no matter the circumstances.


At American University, we aim to provide exceptional opportunities and resources to individuals needing support from a team of dedicated, compassionate people. If you’d like to learn how you can join this tradition of firsts by being the first in your family or friend group to pursue a college education, talk to our team at American University Cybersecurity Professional Program here.

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