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The Dartmouth
May 18, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Wilson: College Preparedness Opportunities Are Not Equal

Many non-first-generation college students could benefit from similar programs to those offered to first-generation students.

I am extremely proud of all of my peers who have gone to inspiring lengths to become the first generation in their families to attend college. Indeed, 16% of Dartmouth’s Class of 2026 consists of first-generation college students. This group of students has faced unique challenges to get here, and it is imperative that they are supported and feel welcome at this institution. At the same time, new programming for students who aren’t first-generation but may not have had access to robust college preparation resources could help fill a gap for others who would also greatly benefit.

The College deserves praise for the in-depth programs that it provides for first-generation college students. One of the largest parts of the Dartmouth first-generation experience is the First-Year Summer Enrichment Program, or FYSEP. First-year, first-generation students are invited to campus four weeks before the rest of the incoming class, and during that time students take sample classes with faculty members to prepare them for college rigor. There are also a series of seminars and workshops, in addition to a peer-mentoring program that persists throughout the year. Finally, FYSEP participants are given a variety of opportunities to connect with each other, which is vital to developing a sense of belonging at Dartmouth. 

In addition, the Prepare to Launch program provides workshops for students on topics such as financial literacy, the career search and the post-Dartmouth experience. In Prepare to Launch, first-generation students meet with Dartmouth alumni whose careers correspond to their interests, and there is a strong focus on educating first-generation students on the resources available to them on campus. In addition, and most interesting to myself, the path to graduate school is comprehensively explained. The Prepare to Launch program thus aims to set up first-generation students up for success as soon as possible.

I think that keeping FYSEP and other first-generation programs exclusive to first-generation students is important for community building and tailoring to the first-generation student experience. However, Dartmouth should do work to provide similar but non-exclusive programs to students who do not qualify as first-generation but could benefit equally from the content of these programs. For instance, as a non-first-generation student, I never had a comprehensive opportunity sponsored by the College to look into a path to graduate school or into future career paths. I personally know many other students that could also have benefited from working with faculty members before the term, and early access to upperclassmen peers aside from UGAs would have been useful before the first weeks of school.

New Student Orientation week is convoluted, busy and much less centralized than FYSEP or any other first-generation program. While bonding did occur, and students attended important talks on the language requirement and Sexual Violence Provention Project, we did not have time to actually refine college skills in the same way that first-generation students did. The College assumes that students who are not first-generation college students will not need the same guidance as first-generation students. While that might be true for some students that have parents that hold advanced degrees, I believe that most students would benefit from some form of similar support. 

Over half of the Class of 2026 attended public schools as opposed to private schools, and many students also came from across the country and the world. This leads to a variation in readiness that I believe is neglected. This difference in preparedness could be prompted by a lower socio-economic status, a difference in pedagogy, or any number of factors. In addition, the classification as a non-first-generation college student is muddy. A second-generation student with one parent who holds an associate’s degree should not be expected to be as prepared for college as someone who has had several generations of family members go to law or medical school. Geographic differences are another factor. A second-generation, homeschooled student from rural Alaska may not have had the same opportunities to network or learn about adjusting to a restrictive workload as a first-generation student that went to a private school in New York City. Students in lower-income families face additional challenges, and being non-first-generation does not erase these barriers.

I strongly believe that the challenges first-generation students face are held in common by some other students. This group of non-first-generation students thus begin their Dartmouth student careers lost and deserving of opportunities like those offered by the First Generation Office. To be especially clear, I am not calling for FYSEP or any other first-generation program to open up to more types of students. These programs seem to do an excellent job at creating a sense of community and more tailored experience for first-generation students. Instead, New Student Orientation could be seriously tweaked to more comprehensively incorporate facets of FYSEP for a greater number of students. Alternatively, housing communities or some other similar body could sponsor an inclusive program in the essence of Prepare to Launch.

All students deserve to have equal opportunities for need-based programs, and I feel that the College could do a better job at recognizing the diversity of college preparedness among non-first-generation students. I am overall pleased with the introduction to higher education that Dartmouth provides, but, as with anything, there is room for improvement.

Opinion articles represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.