What does first-generation student really mean?

I am reading a lot about widening participation, non-traditional students, access and such like in higher education for my project. The idea of a non-traditional (undergraduate) student is not a clear cut category. So a traditional student (in the UK, USA that is – other countries might have other ‘traditional’ characteristics) is a young male from a middle class background who is white.

Non-traditional students are defined with many characteristics but one of the main ones seems to be that they are first in the family to go to university or what is known as first-generation students.

I was thinking about my own situation. My parents were both mature students in around 1993 when I was 13. Both from a working class background and they were the first in their families to go. But that meant that me and my sisters were probably defined as a more traditional student because of the fact that both of our parents had been to university. So how does the concept of ‘first in the family’ apply when your parents went, but when they were in their 40s and just 5 years before you did?

The fact that they went just 5 years before me doesn’t mean we all suddenly became middle-class and all the social and cultural capital that goes with it… but it must be quite usual for children of mature students to then go to university as the idea of going to university becomes normal and achievable – but I haven’t found any research on this yet. But if someone is researching the children of mature students, do let me know what you find!


© Annika Coughlin 2014

  1. If you do find anything else out around this, please do share it. I would be interested in reading more about it.


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