The college admissions process is already difficult and confusing for many, but for those whose parents never attended college, there is an added challenge of having to pave the road themselves.
Tonight, Ware College House will host the East Coast premiere of First Generation, a documentary that follows four first-generation college applicants as they make their way through the admissions process.
The screening — which is part of Ware’s “Dinner with Interesting People” speaker series — will be followed by a dinner and discussion with the filmmakers.
Tonight’s event marks a continuation of Ware’s panel discussion last semester on socioeconomic diversity at Penn.
The discussion — which was prompted by a letter in the Penn Almanac by English professor Peter Conn criticizing the job Penn has done recruiting low-income students to campus — drew a crowd of more than 100.
Dean of Admissions Eric Furda said he hopes tonight’s documentary will serve as a stimulus for continued discussions about diversity at Penn.
“It’s important to have these kinds of conversations in our community and our college houses,” he said. “The experiences of [first-generation] students are important and they’re different from ours. Hopefully, this first-generation screening can help people think about ‘what does it mean for me and what does it mean for my classmate who is a first-generation student?’”
Furda served as a member of the panel discussion last semester, and was the one to suggest tonight’s screening to Ware House Dean Utsav Schurmans as a means of continuing the diversity dialogue on campus.
Schurmans said tonight’s event will broaden the discussion from merely a Penn perspective to the landscape of American higher education.
“This discussion is kind of stepping back and asking what this means for the U.S.,” he said. “I think that’s a very good follow-up because whenever we are going to have students and faculty engaged in a discussion about something like this, it’s good to have a sense of the background and what’s at stake at some level.”
According to Furda, about 10 percent of students admitted to Penn’s Class of 2015 were first-generation students whose parents have not attained a bachelor-degree level of education.
Using responses provided on the Common Application, the Office of Admissions began flagging first-generation student applications at the start of this application cycle. Furda said this knowledge will help provide more context when admissions officers read through applications.
“For holistic admissions, you need to think about the context where the student is coming from, and for first-generation students, that’s their context,” Furda said.
He added that applying as a first-generation student may be “a significant barrier in what is already a process that confuses and stresses out the most highly educated.”
College sophomore Luis Vargas, former chair of admissions and recruitment for the Latino Coalition and a first-generation student himself, said it is up to first-generation students to figure out the admissions process on their own.
“There’s very little discussion at home,” he said. “There is an expectation that you have a college education because you were born here, but your parents may not know how to guide you. The students have to have the willingness to find out for themselves.”
College freshman Dan Schwarz, another first-generation college student, agreed there were limitations to his parents’ involvement.
“My parents worked really hard to put me into a good private school and they expected a lot out of me,” he said. “They tried to help me out with [the application process], but they couldn’t help me out too much. They kind of just let me do what I wanted. They knew I’d make the best decision.”
He added that he is pleased that the challenges of first-generation students will receive more focus at tonight’s event.
IvySelect College Consulting Director and Educational Consultant Michael Goran, a 1976 College graduate, said the integration of first-generation students into Penn’s socioeconomic diversity discussion is necessary.
“Building a diverse class and providing access to students can change lives,” he said. “We want to be all-inclusive when we talk about diversity. Penn’s not just a province of the wealthy.”
Wharton junior Sasha Lagombra, a panelist during last semester’s discussion, added that Penn should be doing more to expand its efforts to reach out to first-generation students.
“Socioeconomic diversity in admissions is just starting to be picked up and discussed,” she said. “It should be acknowledged that people are trying to do this, but obviously there is still a long way to go.”
She added that existing scholarship programs like QuestBridge and the Posse Foundation — both of which Penn uses in its outreach efforts — are beneficial, but often target overlapping communities.
“More needs to be done about reaching out to different communities that we haven’t in the past through students,” she said.
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