Research in Higher Education

, Volume 37, Issue 1, pp 1–22

First-generation college students: Characteristics, experiences, and cognitive development


  • Patrick T. Terenzini
    • National Center on Postsecondary Teaching, Learning, and Assessment (NCTLA)The Pennsylvania State University
  • Leonard Springer
    • NCTLA—The Pennsylvania State University
  • Patricia M. Yaeger
    • NCTLA—The Pennsylvania State University
  • Ernest T. Pascarella
    • National Study of Student LearningNCTLA—University of Illinois
  • Amaury Nora
    • National Study of Student LearningNCTLA—University of Illinois

DOI: 10.1007/BF01680039

Cite this article as:
Terenzini, P.T., Springer, L., Yaeger, P.M. et al. Res High Educ (1996) 37: 1. doi:10.1007/BF01680039


This study sought answers to three questions: (1) Do the precollege characteristics of first-generation students differ from those of traditional students? (2) Do first-generation students' college experiences differ from those of other students? (3) What are the educational consequences of any differences on first-year gains in students' reading, math, and critical thinking abilities? Answers come from 2,685 students (825 first-generation and 1,860 traditional students) who entered 23 diverse institutions nationwide in Fall 1992 and who completed one year of study. First-generation students differ from their traditional peers in both entering characteristics and college experiences. Although traditional students make greater net gains in reading during their first year, the two groups gain to about the same degree in math and critical thinking skills. Those gains, however, appear to result from somewhat different experiences.

Copyright information

© Human Sciences Press, Inc. 1996