First-gen. students help peers

Monday, March 3, 2008

As the first student in her family to attend college, Ashley Anderson ’10 didn’t have anyone at home to tell her what a registrar does or to help her fill out a grant application.

After dealing with the bureaucracy of the Office of Financial Aid and making it through the application process, Anderson and a core group of five other first-generation college students are forming a student organization to help support future first-generation students.

The students met last year at a panel discussion for first-generation students organized by Linda Dunleavy, associate dean of the College for fellowships and pre-law advising.

“I’d always felt that my experience was very unique,” said Anderson, who said she was surprised to meet so many other first-generation students. “We had remarkably similar experiences.”

The most common challenge they faced was navigating the financial aid process and understanding its terminology, said Anderson and Julie Pridham ’10, another member of the group. The first-generation group plans to create tip sheets about financial aid to distribute to students at A Day on College Hill and during Orientation. Anderson also said she had difficulty relating to family members who’d never experienced college.

“My parents don’t know not to call me five times a day during finals,” Anderson said.

But the group focuses not only on students who are the first in their families to go to college, but also the experience of being a low-income student at a wealthy institution.

“I had more issues with being low-income than first generation,” said Shane Reil ’09, another group member.

For Anderson, coming to Brown from her hometown of Longview, Wash was a huge cultural adjustment.

“Everyone had these opportunities that to me were shocking,” Ander said. She recalled that during her freshman year, one student who lived next to her interned with NASA, while another neighbor attended elite boarding schools in several different countries.

When the University announced its new financial aid policies Saturday, Anderson spoke to her mother, who said she couldn’t believe the change.

“We’re considered at the Ivy League poverty level,” her mother told her.

Anderson and Pridham said that the greatest challenge came before they even arrived at Brown.

“It’s the whole application process,” Pridham said.

Anderson didn’t realize the difficulties she’d faced before coming to Brown. “I thought it was normal to travel to the next town to take the SAT,” she said. “Then I got here and met people who’d had tutors, advisers, counselors.”

The group hopes to pass on some of the lessons they’ve learned by working with the Providence-based nonprofit College Visions. Founded by Simon Moore ’00, College Visions advisers help Providence high school students research colleges, write essays and complete financial aid applications, according to a Feb. 7 article in the Providence Journal.

College Visions also helps educate students who have been accepted to college but don’t know what to expect, said Anderson, who volunteered as an essay proofreader with the organization last year.

Above all, the group wants to let students know that if they come to Brown, they won’t be “the only first-generation student,” Pridham said.

They are currently writing a constitution and hope to become an official student group sometime this semester.

Interested students can contact the group at