How can parents of first-generation college students find balance

VIDEO: Melanie Lawson reports on college parents and how they can help their first generation college kids.

There’s a first for everything. First tooth, first step, first date, and now, millions of moms and dads are sending their kids off to their first day of college.

Thirty-three percent of all higher education students are the first in their family to go to college.

According to the Mentor: An Academic Advising Journal, there are three types of parents of first-generation students: hand-holders who make every decision for their child, the unavailable parent, which is the opposite and the happy medium who are the perfect balance. 

And while 56% of students whose parents have a bachelor’s degree graduate within five years, only 44% of first-generation students earn a degree.

But what happens over the next few months -- and years -- makes all the difference. 

“They come into the university and then crash their first quarter, common for a lot of first-generation students,” said Margarita Azmitia, developmental psychologist at UC Santa Cruz.

So how can parents help? First, know the resources. The U.S. Department of Education offers programs such as Upward Bound and Student Services, which aid families in preparation for college. Sites such as and provide tools for parents to better navigate financial aid and paying for school.  

“Families should know they should never not consider a school or an institution because of cost,” John Haller, college financial advisor and VP of enrollment mManagement at the University of Miami, told Ivanhoe. 

Rather look for clubs and organizations that help promote diversity. Experts also say parents need to talk to the academic advisor in order to grow the support circle of the student.

Getting your family one step closer to having its first college grad.

Some colleges offer “bridge programs” that can assist both students and parents with the college transition. Bridge programs help first-generation students become more comfortable with campus life and can make up for a lack of college preparation during high school. So, make sure and check with their schools to see if these programs are offered.