Accessibility statement

First generation students

Get involved

This page is for all students identifying as being first generation, or first in family to go to university. You might feel that you don’t have knowledge and experience of university to draw on from within your own family, you may want to get to know other students in a similar position to you, or you might just have queries about student life.

Our first generation students have told us that the experience can be daunting, and resources and guidance can help. We’ve drawn together useful tips from current first generation students at York, as well as links to information you might find useful. 

New students

Sign up for a student buddy

Am I first generation?

First generation means that neither of your parents have been to university and got a degree. You count as being first generation to go to university even if the following people have gone to university: your foster parents, your care workers, your brother or sister, your biological parents (if you're adopted), or a parent with whom you’ve had no contact during your secondary and post-16 education.

Top tips from current students

The experiences of first generation students are broad and incredibly diverse. For many first generation students, the university experience will be similar to those students who are second generation or beyond. But some may experience a lack of advice or a knowledge network. 

We asked our current first generation students what helped them with university life - here’s what they told us:

  • Go to as many events as possible and join societies and sports clubs to try to find your interests and ‘your people.’
  • University is what you make of it! Push yourself beyond your comfort zone but be honest about who you are, never feel pressured to do things that you don’t want to. 
  • Familiarise yourself with the Handshake and the opportunities they offer, including internships and part-time jobs on campus. 
  • Know your way around your department and make sure you're aware of opportunities that arise, including ambassadorships and representative duties. Make sure you're also familiar with the online resources provided by your department and the Library.
  • Get involved with college stuff, especially your Junior Common Room Committee (JCRC) if you have a good idea for an event or how college life could be improved. 
  • Take advantage of the Centre for Global Programmes! They run various programmes and offer some bursaries to ensure it is accessible to all. 
  • Get to know your STYCs and STYMs - they're a great source of advice and guidance!

Read our advice on everything from dealing with academic pressure to being yourself and 'imposter syndrome'.

Coming from a lower-income family, cost was an issue and although I found taking out a student loan daunting, I know without it uni wouldn’t be an option. Budgeting was therefore important to me and I spent a lot of time looking at my income and how much I would be spending each week.
Sarah, 1st year Social Policy, Crime and Criminal Justice 

Finding support

Our first generation students offer their tips on accessing the help and support you need:

  • Never be afraid to ask for help. Everyone is nervous. Everyone's a little clueless at times. Never worry alone because you never are alone! 
  • Reach out to staff at the University if you need help. This can be college or university staff, academic staff or YUSU permanent officers. Use your academic advisor or college manager as a first point of call. 
  • Use campus support networks through the Student Hub, Nightline or the Open Door team to make sure you are maintaining your mental health. If you feel more comfortable, use your STYMs or college staff.
  • Download the Safezone app, operated by the University, which allows you to send out a distress signal if you're in danger. A porter will then come to your location. Similarly, the Nightsafe team are volunteers that walk around town at night ensuring that students are safe. Finally, Streamline Taxis operate a policy that allows students to have a free taxi ride home if they are without money, in exchange for a student card to be collected the next day with payment. 
  • Make sure you follow the first generation Facebook group and Twitter account to stay updated and be part of a growing network!

Check out our short course covering all aspects of what university life is all about - and learn tips for making the most of your university life and study. 

At first, I often felt like an odd one out, as my life before university didn’t seem to match anyone else's. I worried this might be obvious to other people. Getting involved with student groups allows you to meet so many people, and students really do come from all walks of life. It can be intimidating, but putting yourself out there allows you to make real connections and build a network for yourself. Doing some research on the support the University has available is also a good idea - there is a range of support from your college to the Student Support Hub. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it!  
Ellen, 2nd Year Archeology

Being away from home

Our current first generation students offer their tips on coping with living away from home for the first time:

  • Finances can be a big issue, make sure you're familiar with how student finance works. Also, work on a budget to make sure you don’t overspend. 
  • Sort out your University accommodation in good time and be ready to start looking for your second year accommodation, it comes round quicker than you think!
  • Get to know both the campus and the city to help you settle in - during your freshers week your college should organise time for you to do this. 
  • Make your room homely. The University organises poster and plant sales to help, so make your accommodation your own. 
  • Maintain contact with friends and family at home - York has long holidays and you will probably spend a lot of the year at home. Never feel bad for going home for a visit mid-term or for feeling homesick. 
  • Keep parents/carers up-to-date with what you are doing and try to have conversations with them about your studies and experiences. Be patient with them!

Finding out more

We've pulled together information and links on some of the topics our current first generation students told us they found most useful:

Understanding student finances

Our feedback shows that finance is one of the primary concerns of existing students, so seeking guidance or support is perfectly natural and the Student Hub is here to give assistance if you need it. For any concerns related to finances, you can fill out a self referral form.

The University of York offers various bursaries and scholarships.

The University also has various funds to help fund independent projects by York students.

The Centre for Global Programmes provide the opportunity to visit and study at an international university for two weeks during summer. They offer some bursaries for Study Centres to ensure accessibility to all. 

All UK students studying full-time for their first degree are eligible to apply for student finance. The majority of part-time students are also eligible, but be sure to check with your department if you are unsure. The Government offers a useful step-by-step guide to the application process. You will have to re-apply for student finance every year. 

Academic support

Coping with workloads and the different expectations at University can be daunting. This can be even more challenging for first generation students, but there are a number of contacts that can provide academic guidance throughout your time at York:

One of the biggest changes at university can be  and we offer resources to help. It's best to check your subject specific guidelines as preferences change from subject to subject. 

Get involved with Hidden Icebergs, a project designed to help first generation students with academic concerns. Run by Dr. Tamar Keren-Portnoy of the linguistics department, it’s a social and study space, with workshops being run on a range of topics from academic writing and jargon, to how to dissect academic feedback, and how to handle stress. Contact Tamar.Karen-Portnoy@york.ac.uk for more info or to join up.

Accommodation

You will be placed in one of eight undergraduate colleges spread over two campuses and when accepting an offer from York, you're guaranteed a place in campus accommodation. You will be able to list your preferences based on the kind of accommodation you are looking for. The majority of colleges have ensuite or shared bathroom options, and premium, standard or economy rooms. James accommodation is exclusively catered, while half of Derwent and Vanbrugh accommodation is catered. The University provides a useful guide explaining the . 

If you prefer not to live on campus in your first year or beyond, there are various options off-campus, including private student accommodation available near the University and in the city. 

Colleges

The University of York is divided into eight undergraduate colleges that provide smaller support and social networks. Your accommodation, freshers events and much of your socialising is organised through colleges, so it will be a big part of your time at York. Each college has a college manager, college tutor and porter to help support you, as well as a Junior Common Room Committee, run by elected students to represent the student body and organise events throughout the year.

Buddy scheme

The Buddy Scheme at York allows you to be partnered with a second or third year student who has similar experiences to you. They’re there to provide an extra bit of guidance and support.

Disabilities support

Accessibility is very important at York and there are measures and resources in place to ensure equal opportunities. For further questions, please contact disabilityservices@york.ac.uk.

Support is available to all students that may need it, including support workers, help meeting deadlines, or examination adjustments. 

Developing skills and finding work

There are lots of opportunities at York to develop the skills and experience that employers look for, including York Strengths, the York Award, study skills resources and voluntary work.

The Student Expert Panel is a made up of students from under-represented groups that provide insights and feedback to our student union, colleges and other University structures. It covers diverse topics, so if you have something to add and are passionate about student representation, make sure you join. Being on the Panel is a time commitment of between 6-10 hours a term and is paid. 

Check out the Careers Gateway and the Careers and Placements Office for opportunities to earn extra money by working while you study.