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Recruiting First-Generation College Students

3 min read

First-generation students are among the most highly sought in higher ed, and competition is fierce between colleges and universities looking to attract them.

So what strategies should you use?

New data from Niche offers some insight:

The Best Communication Channels for First-Generation Students

Every outreach channel has proven to be more influential to recruit first-generation students, with text messaging (+8% compared to their peers) and emails (+5%) making the biggest impact.

94% of first-generation students expect to receive emails and 82% want text messages from their prospective schools.

They are many more open to outreach, so it's important to build dedicated and relevant comm flows (focused on email and text) that help to support them. 

first-generation college student entering school


Lead with Net Tuition After Financial Aid

When it comes to messaging, make sure they have an accurate picture of what your school would cost.

  • 76% of first-generation students eliminated colleges from consideration based on sticker price
  • Less than half said they would consider applying to a college with a total published cost of over $30,000 per year
  • 18% said they would only consider colleges with a total published cost of under $10,000

 When communicating with this group of students about tuition, lead the conversation with the generous aid packages your school has available to first-gen college students if they were to apply. The more you can present your sticker price as closer or identical to the net price with financial aid, the more likely you are to reach these students.


Feature First-Generation Student Stories

A diverse student population is one of the most important experiences desired by all students, and even more so for first-generation students. Don't say you are a diverse campus (especially if you aren't) without backing up your statement.

Use email and texting to share user-generated content and stories that show your diversity, and publish stories that showcase first-generation and BIPOC students thriving at your school. 


Know Their Interests

First-generation students are less influenced by alumni networks when compared to their peers, so either explain the benefits of alumni networks or avoid the topic altogether.

They are also less interested in athletics, so don't boast your collegiate sports programs when communicating with first-generation prospects.  

first-generation students listen to college recruiter


Get In With College Counselors

Admissions counselors from colleges and their current school are more influential to first-generation college students in their decision. So, make sure your student recruitment strategy includes communications with influencers who know how you can help these students flourish.

Peers and family have proven to be less influential in students' college search process, although working with families to educate them is important. When parents and family are involved, they can better support  their students. 


Different student groups require unique outreach strategies. If you aren't taking advantage of a texting platform to reach them, you're missing a critical channel of communication for first-generation students.


About the Survey

Niche looked at students whose parents have not graduated from a 2 or 4-year college as a marker for first-generation students. Results were taken from the 2021 Niche Senior Survey and Class of 2022 Fall Senior Survey. Of the 30,353 responses, 10,969 responded as first-generation college students. 

Dive deeper into the data here.


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