To better understand the student experience, navigate across these themes to hear from students who have shared their stories with us.


The college experience is founded on a student’s previous academic experiences, their cultural and community framework, their expectations about what is possible, their internal motivations, and the kind of role modeling and support they have received. This foundation determines the skills, expectations and levels of access that a student brings to the college experience. The quality and nature of these foundational experiences have a profound effect on student behaviors, decisions and on educational outcomes. Students who lack a strong foundation are at a disadvantage and often face significant academic and personal challenges to finding success at college.

Angie, Undergraduate Student
Angie admires how her father worked hard to improve his family's quality of life, without any support from his own parents. Angie's father helps guide her academic and professional career, while her mother advises her on the other, more inter-personal aspects of her life. She credits her parents for putting her in college and aims to follow in her father's footsteps. Angie is a pre-law student.

chasing the dream

A strong academic and personal foundation, good study habits and the ability to work in teams are essential skills that students need to succeed in college. Students deficient in foundational skills spoke often of the challenges they faced adjusting to the demands of college course work and campus life. Read more

“My dad kept telling us if you guys don’t go to school, you guys aren’t going to be anything…you’ll be working in a factory for the rest of your life. You don’t want that, right?” Victor, 21

Role of the Family

Parents and other familial role models play a major role in shaping a student's character, perceptions of what is possible, and how a student engages with the opportunities and challenges that academic life brings. However, even engaged parents who act with best intentions are not always successful in guiding students through decisions relevant to planning for and succeeding in college. Parents themselves may lack an understanding of or have little experience with navigating the system or be otherwise unable to provide appropriate mentorship and support. Many students reported that extended family and friends filled this role when immediate family members were not able or well enough qualified to provide assistance.

Jason, Technical School Student
Most parents stress the value of education and try to persuade their children to go to college; this is not the case for everyone. Jason’s family was on the fence about college. Jason saw a better future with a college education.

Rebecca, Not in school
Rebecca had a lot of pressure on her to attend college, but had little support in considering her options.

The K-12 Foundation

The quality of High School education plays a critical role in post-secondary success on many levels. Some students had terrific high school experiences. In some cases, the high school experience offered the student a better educational experience than college. Other students come to college from high schools that are behind academically. In this sense, the high school experience is more than foundational, it is a lens that colors student’s expectations, opinions and behaviors. The experience also influences the type of universities and colleges students have access to and often determines the extent to which the student is prepared for the academic rigor, course workload, type of learning and degree of engagement that will be expected of them at the university level.

Dan, Technical School Student
Coming from a private high school, Dan feels better prepared for college than those coming from a public high school.

“I went [to college] kicking and screaming. I feel like in my freshman year of high school I just kind of checked out of wanting to go to traditional school.” Grace, Undergraduate

Playing Catch Up

There are growing issues with the number of students who graduate high schoolwithout mastery of basic math and reading skills. Remedial courses to bring students up to an academic baseline have increased. For many students, remedial classes add cost, delay graduation, and lengthen the time between admission and immersion in classes relevant to a student's area of interest. Students expressed frustration at this dynamic and in many cases, this frustration (and the ability to find success in remedial course work) created a significant barrier to academic achievement and degree attainment. Many students were surprisingly self aware of this dynamic and experienced a range of responses to the challenge of being unprepared and, as a result, at a disadvantage.

Jhan, Undergraduate Student
Jhan talks about struggling to catch up in college as a result of his poor high school education.

“I feel like [teachers] don’t know or don’t understand the education that we received prior to college, or maybe it’s just that they are really intelligent and they think that it’s easy for them, so it should be easy for all of us.” Jasmine, Undergraduate Student

Being the First

First generation college students are in a unique position in their families. They often must seek external support to guide their decision-making when it comes to college, and many are encumbered by their socioeconomic standing. Yet, many first-generation students come from families where the benefits and necessity of a college education have been exalted. In some cases, this is a strong motivator that keeps a student focused on the goal of graduation. In other cases, family expectations may layer on an additional level of stress and fear of failure that some students find burdensome. For these students, a parent’s desire for them to succeed in college is a powerful motivator. However, these parents may only be able to supply emotional support, but little in the way of advice and guidance on how to navigate the system.


Jose, Community College Student
Jose, a community college student, is the first in his family to go to school.

Doris, Undergraduate Student
Being the first in the family to go to college, Doris doesn't have anyone to help her know what to expect or offer her practical guidance on decisions related to her experience. This lack of insight slowed Doris's progress during her first year of school. Doris is a bright and caring student who hopes, along with her twin sister, to return to her high school to teach other kids who will face similar challenges. This kind of care and concern for the future of others is something that kids from the toughest backgrounds often have.