Being the first in the family to study

20 Apr 2023

First-generation students often find the university ‘system’ challenging. At LMU, the Student Advisory Service provides useful support in a number of ways.

Many students who are the first in their family to set out on an academic career find themselves confronted by all kinds of questions and challenges in the university ‘system’. That is why LMU’s Student Advisory Service (ZSB) is there: to support you on your study journey. In the interview reproduced below, Amelie Hass, the Academic Student Advisor responsible for diversity at the ZSB, explains why it often takes courage to become a ‘first-generation student’ – and how obstacles can be overcome.

Amelie Hass, the Academic Student Advisor explains why it often takes courage to become a ‘first-generation student’ – and how obstacles can be overcome. | © LMU

It is still the case that educational achievements in Germany depend very heavily on people’s social background. What is the situation at university level?

Educational opportunities in Germany are very unequally distributed. People speak here of an ‘educational funnel’. The children of academics – families in which at least one parent has completed higher education – start out with a far higher probability that they will study than children from non-academic families.

Whereas 77 out of 100 children of academics at least begin to study, only 23 out of 100 children from non-academic families ever enroll for higher education.

What challenges are faced by children who are the first in their family to study?

For the vast majority, financing their studies is a major issue. Not all of them can receive adequate financial support from their families. And in a city as expensive as Munich, even the Bafög (a government educational advancement grant) is not enough. Many of these youngsters therefore have to work alongside their studies in order to get by.


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But the financial aspect is not the only challenge faced by children from non-academic families, is it?

Children whose parents have never studied do not receive as much practical assistance from their families in matters relating to their studies. I’m talking about issues such as how do you enroll, what are lectures like, what are seminars? The fundamentals of the university system are simply lacking, as is the support network to which the children of academics usually have recourse. Nor should we underestimate the fact that individuals who are the first in their family to go to university often suffer from a feeling of being different, of speaking and thinking differently, of not really belonging.

What are the consequences of these challenges for their academic career?

One consequence is that first-generation students, as they are sometimes called, have a harder time getting settled in at university in the first place. Many more of them students drop out than those from academic backgrounds. Another is that far less first-generation students opt to take a master’s degree, and fewer still pursue a doctorate.

The Student Advisory Service supports first-generation students. What support do you provide?

We want to help meet the specific needs of students and prospective students whose parents did not study. Before they enroll at university, we therefore organize a series of information events and easily accessible opportunities to try courses out. The details are available under Advice for prospective students.

Students are also welcome to attend our workshop “Being the first in the family to study”, the main purpose of which is to get students talking to each other, building bridges between them and helping them to see that they are not alone with their questions. They can then strengthen and support each other.

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What should participants who attend the workshop “Being the first in the family to study” expect?

Being the first one in the family to study takes courage and brings challenges with it. The aim of the workshop is to look together at uncertainties ahead of and during their studies, and getting the students to talk to each other and encourage each other to make the most of their potential. We organize work sessions for individuals, with partners and in groups, harnessing different methods to explore the first-generation students’ resources and give them confidence in their ability to study. We also discuss the ways in which support can be provided to these students.

What offers of support can you recommend to first-generation students above and beyond those available from the Student Advisory Service?

The students themselves have organized an Anti-Class-Discrimination unit. This is part of the Student Council (Stuve) and provides a readily accessible and understanding forum in which diverse victims, students from non-academic home backgrounds and poor or poverty-class academics can share their experience. This unit also serves as a useful port of call for students in need of advice.

In addition, LMU has a Scholarships Unit, an International Office and a Career Service. Beyond that, first-generation students can draw on external services provided by the Munich Student Union and/or (a nationwide support service for first-generation students), for example.

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