Kaniya Hester, Chloe Fisher, Eric Loza-Corona and Mia Castle live separate lives at Northwestern.

Hester is a Communication third-year trying to demystify the business world, who changed career paths in the middle of the pandemic. Fisher, a Weinberg second-year, is a physics student from Michigan who wears a Canada Goose coat and loafers in the winter. Loza-Corona, a McCormick second-year who stayed at home for the pandemic, is a Los Angeles native who is only now meeting his Zoom friends in person. And Castle, a Weinberg second-year studying math, started at Northwestern as pre-med and now spends her free time in the Henry Crown Sports Pavilion for swim club.

They have had all diverging NU experiences. But they do have two things in common.

None of them had parents who went to college. And by going to Northwestern, they are also part of the 23% of first-generation students in the US who attend a highly selective institution.

The term first-generation applies to students “where neither parent has obtained a college degree,” according to Northwestern’s Student Enrichment Services (SES). SES organizes campus programming and resources for first-generation, low-income and/or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students.

According to statistics from the Pew Research Center, only 26% of adults in the U.S. with non-college-educated parents have obtained a bachelor’s degree. This number drops to 21% and 15% for Black and Hispanic populations, respectively, and the first-generation student dropout rate is four times higher than that of students whose parents have degrees.

The Center for First-Generation Student Success says, “The term "first-generation" implies the possibility that a student may lack the critical cultural capital necessary for college success because their parents did not attend college.”

Hester, Fisher, Loza-Corona and Castle all fit this simple definition, but being first-generation means more than wearing the label — it creates communities that combat stigmas. And, sometimes, being a first-generation student means using these statistics as fuel to succeed.

Click on each student profile below to hear their first-generation experience