Just what factors do first-generation students consider when making a choice about what college they are going to attend, and do they make their choices differently than their non-first-generation peers? Recently, just such a question popped into my email inbox. Although I would normally just cite a few quick figures from our data to the person making the inquiry, this time I decided to write a blog response instead.

Each year on the CIRP Freshman Survey we ask hundreds of thousands of incoming students a myriad of questions about themselves and their plans for college. Included are a series of questions asking students to tell us the relative importance of various factors when deciding which college they would attend. We then weight our survey data to provide a national portrait of incoming freshman each year, and publish our results in our American Freshman Monograph – the latest of which is titled “The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2009.

As published in this latest monograph, and listed in order of importance here are the top 10 factors that college students indicated were “very important” to them in choosing which college they would attend:

This college has a very good academic reputation 63.7%
This colleges graduates get good jobs 56.6%
I was offered financial assistance 44.7%
The cost of attending this college 41.6%
A visit to campus 41.4%
I wanted to go to a school about the size of this college 39.9%
This college has a good reputation for its social activities 39.3%
This colleges graduates gain admission to top graduate/professional schools 34.7%
I wanted to live near home 20.1%
Information from a website 19.2%



The question of course deals with first-generation status and differences, so here too are these same top 10 reasons by first-generation status:

First Generation Status
No Yes
This college has a very good academic reputation 64.4% 61.0%
This colleges graduates get good jobs 57.1% 54.5%
I was offered financial assistance 42.0% 55.6%
The cost of attending this college 39.9% 48.7%
A visit to campus 42.4% 37.3%
I wanted to go to a school about the size of this college 40.4% 37.9%
This college has a good reputation for its social activities 39.0% 40.7%
This colleges graduates gain admission to top graduate/professional schools 35.0% 33.3%
I wanted to live near home 18.2% 27.7%
Information from a website 18.7% 21.3%



So, it turns that with one exception, although they rank their top 10 reasons in a somewhat different order, first-generation students and non-first-generation students have the same top factors in mind when they are making choices about which college they will attend. Where the two groups differ is on factor 10 – for first-generation students “my parents wanted me to come here” (21.4%) was factor 10 (this factor is ranked number 11 for non-first generation students, 18.2%). “Information from a website” was factor 11 for first-generation students.

Another important issue to consider though is the magnitude of difference between first-generation students and their non-first generation peers. The biggest difference between first-generation students and their non-first-generation peers is on item “I wanted to live near home”, factor 9 for both student groups. Fifty-two percent more first-generation students rated this factor as “very important” than did their non-first-generation peers. Other factors where there was a large difference were “I was offered financial assistance” and “the cost of attending this college” where 32% and 22%, respectively, more first-generation than non-first-generation students indicated that the factor was “very important” in their decision of which college they would attend.

What the results tell us then is that overall when choosing a college first-generation students put more weight on being close to home and on cost than do their non-first-generation peers.