Advice for First-Generation College Applicants

Applying to college can be an overwhelming and intimidating process for any student. For an applicant who is the first in the family to attend a four-year college or university, the application process can be especially daunting. Decisions about where to attend college, how to apply to different schools, whether to leave family, and how to afford the cost of a college education are issues that can pose hurdles for first-generation college students. 

Although the application process can be challenging for first-generation applicants, it is important to know that Yale College is proud to recruit, admit, and support first-generation students upon matriculation. In fact, more than one out of every six Yale students will be the first in their families to graduate from a four year college.

Here is a bit more information about the questions and concerns many first-generation college applicants may have when applying to and deciding where to attend college.

Leaving Home: The In-State/Out-of-State Question

College is a time full of learning and discovery, but the transition away from the familiarity of family and friends can be a challenging one. This challenge is further complicated by a rigorous academic curriculum and many hours dedicated to extracurricular activities. While students must weigh the particulars of their situations and make a personal decision about how far from home they are comfortable going for college, Yale has a number of support systems in place to make leaving home easier (read more about residential colleges, first-year counselors, and advisors below).

Another consideration when comparing in-state and out-of-state schools is the cost of attending different types of schools. Oftentimes, in-state schools offer residents lower tuition and private schools are comparatively more expensive. However, Yale is one of many top private institutions that has a robust financial aid program that meets 100% of a student’s demonstrated financial need. In fact, Yale is one of the most affordable colleges in the country for families with less than $200,000 in annual income - significantly less expensive on average than attending a top public university, even as an in-state student.

Yale’s Financial Aid awards do not include loans. Instead, Yale meets 100% of every student’s financial need with a scholarship grant and opportunities for on-campus employment. Families who earn less than $65,000 per year are not expected to make a financial contribution. To estimate your individual cost of attendance, please visit the Yale Net Price Calculator. To learn more about Yale’s financial aid policies - including how to apply for aid - visit Financial Aid In-Depth. You may be surprised by how affordable Yale is for your family.

The College Transition

Going to college is a very big step for most students, but Yale offers many campus resources to make the transition as smooth as possible. All undergraduates participate in the Residential College system at Yale, which helps students find a home away from home. Residential colleges are small, tight-knit communities where undergraduates live, eat meals, and interact with a diverse group of peers. The moment first-years arrive on campus on move-in day, they are also greeted by FroCos (First-Year Counselors). FroCos are upperclassmen in the residential college who help first-years move into their suites and serve as advisors throughout the year. The Head of College and Dean are professors who also live in the college, eat meals with students in the dining hall, and serve as the college’s leaders. The Head of College plans college social events like subsidized trips to Broadway shows, and the Dean is the college’s academic adviser. To assist with academic concerns, Yale also offers free one-on-one and group tutoring services covering every academic department. Academic tutoring and other support systems, such as professor’s open office hours, help students transition to life at Yale.

Cultural houses provide an additional community resource for Yalies. Many of the cultural houses and some student groups organize “families” of students where upperclassmen act as “big sibs” to mentor first-years. One example of this type of family-style community is the Peer Liaison (PL) Program.

Between schoolwork, extracurricular activities, athletics, friends, campus jobs, performances, and exploring New Haven, life at Yale is pretty busy. First-year students might be tempted to join five clubs, the swim team, and an a cappella group all at once. But it is important to remember that you will have four full years to discover all there is to see and to do on campus. In transitioning to college, take your time to adjust to a new environment and then pursue other activities as soon as you feel comfortable. You don’t have to conquer college all at once.

The Value of a Liberal Arts Education and Pre-Professional Programs

The liberal arts are offered to undergraduate students at many colleges and universities across the United States. Students graduate from Yale with a liberal arts degree – meaning they have successfully completed courses across many academic disciplines, while also taking courses in one or more major. Prior to graduation, an engineering major may also have taken literature and history courses while an art major may have taken economics and biology courses. A liberal arts cultivates students’ intellectual curiosity, personal growth and research skills by giving them perspective on a wide range of academic disciplines. Employers are attracted to liberal arts students because of the diverse set of skills they develop in college: the ability to think both critically and creatively, to make meaningful connections across disparate academic disciplines and to communicate with different kinds of people in a wide array of situations.

By contrast, pre-professional programs provide undergraduate students with academic and experiential training in a specific professional field. Although all Yale students participate in a rigorous liberal arts curriculum, both current students and alumni also receive career development advising and pre-professional school advising and opportunities through Yale Undergraduate Career Services in many areas including:

  • Health Professions: For students preparing to attend medical school, Yale offers ample support to ensure that undergraduates fulfill medical school course requirements and find opportunities to conduct medical research either at Yale or elsewhere. For more information, please visit Preparing for Healthcare Professions.
  • Business: Yale students interested in business often enroll in Economics, Statistics, or even Applied Math courses spanning a wide range of business-related subfields including (but not limited to) finance, accounting, international development, trade and political economy. These students learn the core analytical, quantitative, and critical thinking skills required to excel in business industry upon graduation or on the GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test), which is required for entrance to most graduate business schools.
  • Law: Yale provides pre-law advising to interested undergraduates. Although Yale does not offer a pre-law track to undergraduates, the liberal arts curriculum prepares undergraduates interested in the law for the logical reasoning, critical thinking and analytical skills necessary to create a successful law school application and to test well on the LSAT (Law School Admissions Test).
  • Journalism: For students interested pursuing a journalism track while at Yale, the Yale Journalism Initiative helps prepare students for a career in journalism by providing information about internships, jobs, journalism fellowships and other resources.

In each of these areas, and many more, most Yale students will participate in summer internships or study abroad to further their experience in a field of their interest. Visit the Yale Center for International and Professional Experience website to learn more.