Becoming a College Student: An Empirical Phenomenological Analysis of First Generation College Students

Whitehead, Patrick M.; Wright, Robert
Publication Year:
Community College Journal of Research and Practice

This article is an empirical phenomenological examination of the perceived security that first generation college students have in their identity as college students. First generation college students (FGCS) have been defined as students whose parents or guardians have not completed a 2- or 4-year postsecondary degree. Previous research (Davis, 2010; Peteet, Montgomery, & Weekes, 2015; Ward, Siegel, & Davenport, 2012) suggests that FGCS have a particularly difficult time finding confidence in their identities as college students, and that this exacerbates the difficulties that they face as students. The imposter phenomenon (IP) is the deep conviction that one is not good enough to deserve the title, responsibility, recognition, or job that one has (Clance, 1985). IP has been tied to FGCS both theoretically (Davis, 2010) and empirically (Peteet et al., 2015). This study examines the experience of overcoming IP by asking seven self-identified FGCS to describe the experience of recognizing their own identities as college students. There is an important difference that could be understood by separating students who experience that their confidence in this identity is authentic and those who do not. When students view college as in service to something greater, we found that they are uniquely impervious to the obstacles college students typically face. The discussion proposes two simple changes that can be made in service to help students navigate this transition in college student identity: the first is a suggestion for student advising and the second involves classroom instruction.

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