Students who do not have parents or carers who have attended university themselves sometimes find it useful to have additional information and help when making their decisions and applying to higher education.

This page has been developed in partnership with FirstGens.

Who is a first-generation student?

If neither of a student’s parents or carers attended university or completed a degree, they are usually considered to be ‘first-generation’. 

There are lots of students in higher education whose parents did not have experience of university themselves – in fact, research has shown that almost two thirds of graduates are first generation students.

A note on language

The phrase 'first in family’ is sometimes used interchangeably with the term ‘first-generation’, but at FirstGens we prefer to use ‘first-generation’. Some people wonder if ‘first-in-family’ means they are not included if they have older siblings at university even though they may have faced the same challenges or barriers. However, if your siblings or other relatives have attended or graduated from university, you can still be considered a first-generation student.

Find out more about FirstGens.

What support can I receive at university?

  • You might be able to apply for additional funding, such as a bursary
  • You could be eligible for a contextual offer
  • Invitations to events, such as campus tours, summer schools, and webinars.
  • Help to find accommodation, developing academic skills, mentorships opportunities, and other support with settling in.
  • Help to manage your mental health and wellbeing.

These activities and support are often outlined in universities’ widening access and participation plans. These are commitments to support students from under-represented and lower socio-economic backgrounds to access and succeed in higher education – some universities specifically mention first generation students in these plans. You can find these plans on the university’s website.

They have different names depending on where in the UK the university is located – they are also listed on the relevant funding council’s website:

Note: Universities may have slightly different definitions of ‘first-generation’ and the type of support they offer may vary – not all will offer additional support. It’s important to do your research and check what you might be eligible for before making your application. 

How might being a first-generation student affect my university journey?

Becoming a first-generation student is an exciting journey and an incredible accomplishment, but you might also have additional considerations you need support with.

For example, as you are navigating a new environment you may not be able to draw on the lived experience, insights and guidance of your parents and carers. 

Some first-generation students told us they would have liked more information about:

  • Access to student finance and better advice about funding, such as scholarships and bursariesmore about managing money and student finance.
  • Adjusting to and prioritising your workload more about getting ready for your studies.
  • Accessing the right university service at the right timemore about student support services.
  • Getting support for other circumstances and needsread about support for individual needs.
  • Who to contact for advice and guidance – the student support team is the best starting point. They sometimes have different names but all help with a wide range of topics, such as accommodation, disability adjustments, finding part-time employment, accessing hardship funds, and managing your health and wellbeing. Most university websites will have a page and are happy to help you with any questions. Read UCAS’ guide to student support services
  • Doubting your skills and abilities – you're not alone if you feel like this. Your university will run workshops and offer support to make sure students from all backgrounds have the chance to brush up on different skills and knowledge throughout their studies, so speak to the student support team for details. 

Subject Spotlights can also help you prepare and make decisions through taster lectures, interactivities, and content to help with your application.  

Starting a new journey without a map can feel challenging at times, but you’re not alone, because there are many funding schemes, mentorships, events and other opportunities tailored to assist first-generation students throughout their application and study journey. 

Applying to university

In the UCAS application, you will be asked about your parental education (in the diversity and inclusion section). This is an optional question but it can make universities aware that you are a first-generation student and connect you with any additional information or support they may offer.

Sometimes students are worried that sharing information on their UCAS application will negatively affect their chances of receiving an offer. We’d like to reassure you this is not the case – universities use this information to support you in your application and your studies. Sharing that you are a first-generation student will help universities connect you to any support they offer.

Other tips for completing your UCAS application

  1. Get familiar with how it works before you start. Before you apply, ask yourself if you feel confident with the process and what to expect. If you’re not sure, the UCAS/careers adviser at school or college will be able to help – maybe arrange a 1:1 meeting to talk about the process and go through any questions. Sign up to the UCAS Hub early to get reminders and information at every stage, and all you need to know about applying
  2. Check course deadlines and entry requirements early in UCAS’ search tool. Once you’ve applied, track your application in the UCAS Hub – look out for dates of interviews, auditions and tests. 
  3. Share your support needs. There's a wide diversity of support available in higher education, so there are other circumstances you can flag in the application, for example: if you are disabled or have a mental health condition, learning difference, or long-term illness; if you have caring or parenting responsibilities; or if you're care experienced. Read more about applying with individual needs.

FirstGens’ top tips for going to university

  1. Attend open days and UCAS Discovery events

    UCAS Discovery events are a great way to start thinking about your options - the UCAS staff available will be happy to answer your questions, and there are university and apprenticeship stands to help you decide on your next steps. Find a UCAS Discovery event near you.

    Open days are great for exploring university campuses and deciding if it is the right choice for you. There is always lots to see and do, so plan your day carefully – read UCAS’ guide to open days.

  2. Learn how to manage your money
    Students often talk about this being the first time they’ve received such large sums of money in their bank account! Common concerns include finding a job that won’t be too demanding or how to manage your maintenance loan. Making sure you know how to manage money and where to find additional funding is a crucial undergraduate skill.

    Other useful links to help you manage your finances: You might also want to find a job that offers both flexibility and good pay, such as university ambassador positions. These roles are spoken about highly by students, so we recommend getting in touch with the university, as soon as possible, to be aware of any upcoming application deadline. However, if you do miss the deadline, there will likely be another opportunity soon after, as universities often recruit student ambassadors.
  3. Find a mentor to support you along the way
    When you're a first-generation student, it’s can be helpful to build a support system around you.

    “Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen and a push in the right direction"
    John C. Crosby

    A mentor is someone with a specific set of skills and experience who agrees to provide free support to someone else. They help to guide and advise a less experienced person. Often, they will have been there and done it themselves, and are willing to use their time to share their knowledge with others to uplift and support them.

    Transitioning to university is an important milestone - finding a supportive mentor to chat through any questions and challenges can make a real difference.

    Here are a few examples of programmes where you can find mentors: You can also speak to your UCAS adviser if you are at school or college to find mentoring opportunities via the Outreach Connection Service. 
  4. Look after your health and wellbeing
    It can be really valuable to connect with other students going through the same experience. You can connect and chat with current students on Unibuddy via UCAS, or check if your university has a Facebook group - often there are groups where you can meet other new and incoming students.

    Don’t forget to share if you have a mental health condition on the UCAS application – this helps universities connect you to the right support, and they can send you more information about their services and link you up to their mental health adviser or wellbeing team. 

    Read more about managing your mental health and wellbeing at university.

    You can also find lots of brilliant resources and more support on the Student Minds website – check out their social media channels for more information. 
  5. Get ahead with preparing for life after uni
    While at university, you can undertake work experience with graduate employers. There are also some great organisations out there specifically dedicated to helping first-generation students access opportunities. 

    You may have heard of first year internships - these are highly sought after work experience placements for undergraduates that help introduce you to the range of jobs and industries out there. They can also help you build the skills that graduate employers are looking for. You might need to apply in your first term, so start your research early.

    Some organisations that offer first year internships and support those who want to apply include Bright Network and SEO London.

About FirstGens

FirstGens is a royal award-winning organisation that supports students heading to university, who don’t have familial guidance. Every year, FirstGens delivers the Navigating University Programme, an immersive programme comprised of online webinars, in-person events, online videos, mentoring and practical guides. Bringing together students from across the UK, to journey together. 

The programme helps students navigate their first year of university with confidence, by sharing the advice and experiences of other first-generation students and graduates. Helping students overcome any unexpected hurdles, hit the ground running, connect with opportunities, and succeed in academia.