Movin' on up (to college): First-generation college students' experiences with family achievement guilt

Cultur Divers Ethnic Minor Psychol. 2015 Jul;21(3):420-9. doi: 10.1037/a0037844. Epub 2014 Sep 8.


As the first in their families to attend college, first-generation college students (FGCs) experience a discrepancy between the opportunities available to them and those available to their non-college-educated family members that elicits family achievement guilt. The present studies examined family achievement guilt among an ethnically diverse sample of FGCs and continuing-generation college students (CGCs), those whose parents attended college (Studies 1 and 2), and tested a strategy to alleviate such guilt (Study 2). In Study 1, on open-ended and closed-ended measures, FGCs (N = 53) reported more guilt than CGCs (N = 68), and Latinos (N = 60) reported more guilt than Whites (N = 61). Latino FGCs reported more family achievement guilt than the other 3 groups. In Study 2, we examined whether reflecting on a time when one helped family would alleviate family achievement guilt for FGCs. Specifically, FGCs (N = 58) and CGCs (N = 125) described a time they helped their family with a problem (help condition) or did not describe an example (control), then completed the guilt measure. Analyses revealed that (a) consistent with Study 1, FGCs reported higher guilt than CGCs and minorities reported more guilt than Whites, and (b) FGCs in the help condition reported significantly less guilt than FGCs in the control condition and reported no differences in guilt from CGCs across conditions. Finally, perceptions of family struggle mediated this relationship such that reflecting on helping one's family led to perceiving less family struggle, which led to less family achievement guilt for FGCs.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Achievement*
  • Adolescent
  • Educational Status*
  • Ethnicity / psychology*
  • Family / ethnology*
  • Family / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psychology, Educational
  • Students / psychology*
  • Universities
  • Young Adult