daughter giving mother piggy-back ride

This brief is the second of a three-part series on first-generation status. 

In this brief, we compare multiple definitions for determining first-generation status to explore how each definition changes who is considered a part of this population. In other words, how might the definition used change how many first-generation students are applying to college via Common App? And, how many students switch from first-generation to continuing-generation, and vice versa, based on how the definition is constructed?

Depending on the exact definition of first-generation status used, the number of first-generation applicants on the Common App in 2022 can vary from 304,338 to 709,850.

Common App Data Analytics and Research

Then, we look at how each definition changes what we observe about first- and continuing-generation students regarding their college readiness, socioeconomic status, and application behaviors. In other words, how might these differing definitions change how we understand first-generation students and their needs? And what can we glean about the pros and cons of each definition as a result?

Having a clear understanding of which decisions are being made with these definitions–and why–is essential to ensuring effective support for the students who require it most and pinpointing the most effective methods to aid them.

Check out report highlights in the infographic, or delve into the full report for more details. Find the summary of part one in the first-generation status series of briefs here. Explore additional reports from our Data Analytics and Research team.