What is a First-Generation Student?

You are considered a first-generation student if neither of your parents earned a bachelor’s degree. We know this definition may not fully account for the rich diversity of first-generation college students. For example, your parent(s) may have some college experience but did not earn a degree, or an older sibling or extended family member may have earned a college degree. No matter what your background, SUNY Oneonta is dedicated to supporting your success.

Approximately 37% of our undergraduates and 41% of our fall 2022 first-year students identify as first-generation students.


SUNY Oneonta supports each student with personalized academic advisement, from your first semester through graduation. Advisers are faculty or staff who will help you navigate your SUNY Oneonta academic experience. They are assigned to you by the major in which you are enrolled. If you are undecided, you’ll still have an adviser; once you declare your major, you will be assigned a new adviser in the department that matches your interest.

Majors and Programs

Campus Life

When you get involved in campus life, you’ll make social connections, find friends, discover new interests, develop leadership skills and have fun! Oneonta has more than 150 student clubs and organizations to choose from, a supportive residential life community, and a wide range of activities and events on campus to keep you entertained and engaged. It’s easy to find your place and feel like you’re a part of a community here.

Clubs and Organizations


SUNY Oneonta students, faculty and staff welcome people of all backgrounds and strive to be part of an inclusive community that values and celebrates differences. We have many multicultural student clubs and hold diversity-themed events all year. Students can get involved and find support through the Office of Equity and Inclusion Peer Mentor Program, Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, and Center for Racial Justice and Inclusive Excellence.

Diversity at Oneonta

Financial Aid

The advisors and staff in our Financial Aid and Scholarships Office are here to help you navigate the financial aid process each year. We offer payment plans and a comprehensive financial assistance program that includes grants and scholarships that you do not have to pay back, loans that must be repaid, and student employment income. When you apply for aid, you’ll be assigned a financial aid advisor to support you.

Financial Aid Awards

Academic Support Services

Everyone at SUNY Oneonta is rooting for your success, and we have a lot of support services to help you along the way.  

  • Student Learning Center – one-on-one peer and professional staff tutoring, and courses in writing, math and study skills.
  • Accessibility Resources – accommodations such as extended test-taking times, note-taking and large-print course materials for students with learning and other disabilities
  • Academic Advisement – help deciding on a major, choosing classes, planning your course schedule, and keeping track of the requirements you need to complete in order to graduate
  • Career Development – prepare for success after graduation with help figuring out what career you want to pursue, finding an internship, writing a resume and practicing for job interviews 
  • Experiential Learning Center – connects you with hands-on learning opportunities outside of the classroom, including research projects, volunteering, studying abroad and getting an internship 

Paying for College

Paying for college can be a challenge for many families, and the counselors and staff in our Financial Aid Office work hard to make sure all qualified students have the opportunity to pursue a college degree. We offer payment plans and a comprehensive financial assistance program. In 2020-21, 84% of first-year students and 79% of all Oneonta undergraduate students received financial assistance.

The first step in getting help paying for college is to complete the Free Application or Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), available each year beginning Oct. 1 at fafsa.gov. SUNY Oneonta will use the information you provide on the FAFSA to determine your family’s ability to pay for your education and the types of financial assistance that may help. You may receive a combination of federal, state and college aid, including grants and scholarships that you do not have to pay back, loans that must be repaid, and income from student employment. Our financial aid advisors are here to help you navigate the application process, every step of the way. 

Applying for Aid

For 2022-23, the total cost to attend SUNY Oneonta is $27,545 per year for New York State residents and $30,055 for out-of-state residents. This includes tuition, room (residence hall), board (food), books, supplies, transportation and personal expenses.

Tuition and Fees

All first-year applicants will be automatically considered for scholarships based on academic achievement in high school and your family’s ability to pay for college. If you apply by Jan. 15, 2023, you’ll have the best chance of receiving a scholarship for the following academic year. These scholarships are renewable for four years. After your first year at Oneonta, you’ll have the chance to apply for a variety of additional scholarships based on academic success in your major, including several scholarships just for first-generation students. In 2020-21, SUNY Oneonta awarded $5.7 million in merit- and need-based scholarships.


Many students work part-time jobs during their time at SUNY Oneonta. These positions can help refine your career interests, develop valuable skills and earn money for books and personal expenses. Our Student Employment office maintains a listing of on- and off-campus jobs. If you receive a Federal Work Study financial aid award, you’ll get first priority for on-campus jobs and receive a paycheck for the hours you work. 

Student Employment


First-Generation-Honor-Society Logo

First-Generation Honor Society 

To recognize the hard work and academic success of our first-gen students, SUNY Oneonta has established a chapter of Alpha Alpha Alpha (Tri-Alpha), the national honor society for first-generation students. Our first group of honorees was inducted in spring 2022. Membership is open to first-generation students who have earned at least 30 credit/semester hours toward a bachelor’s degree and have achieved an overall grade-point average of at least 3.2 on a 4.0 scale. 


First-Generation Celebration Day 

November 8 is National First-Generation Celebration Day! We’re excited to join colleges and universities across the country in recognizing and celebrating the achievements of our first-generation students, faculty, staff and alumni. This is a time not only to recognize your hard work and resilience, but also to help our whole campus community better understand the systemic barriers plaguing higher education and the supports needed for first-generation students to access and succeed at college.

Our Stories
Tanya Reyes

Tanya Reyes

SUNY Oneonta, Class of 2024
Education major

It means giving back. I am doing this in hopes it is enough for the sacrifices my parents had to go through in order for me to have this life.

Read More About Tanya


Britney Liddell

Britney Liddell

SUNY Oneonta, Class of 1993
Business Economics Major

Being a first-generation college student is something I can say with pride. I was never pressured to go to college, but I wanted it for me. My family couldn't be prouder of me, and I want to be a role model for the next generation. 

Read More About Britney

Joshua Nelson

Joshua Nelson

Assessment Specialist at SUNY Oneonta

I completed my degrees without generational/familial knowledge on the processes and procedures in Higher Education. I was intentional about seeking an institution that had a strong First Year program that would help fill the gap in my support.

Read more about Joshua


Samantha Kaminsky
Being a first-generation student means breaking the barrier that is often set out before you without you even knowing. It means that you have achieved what others could not, or those who did not have the opportunity to.
George Archundia
Faculty and Staff
Being a first generation means a lot to me, as it is a representation of the work my parents placed into my success. For my mother, it was the idea she wanted for her children in making sure I understood working hard pays off.
Kadidja El Hadji
The obstacles that I had encountered in this context were many because neither my father or my mother could help me on the plan of education when I needed them. So, I had to fight alone to succeed in my studies and to be there where I am today.
Owen Conklin
Faculty and Staff
My parents did not graduate from college though my mom attended for one semester. It meant they knew the value in it, but not ways to support me with their experience.
Daniela Suarez
To me, being first-generation means carrying the responsibility of being the first in your family to attend college. Having privileged opportunities and experiences that they did not get to have.
Emily Destefano
To me, being a first-generation student means you are breaking the cycle you were born into. It means striving to be the one to break the cycle for your family who didn't have the opportunities you had. To make the people who helped you get to where you are proud.
Alayna Vander Veer
Faculty and Staff
I always assumed that because college was never 'not an option,' it put me in a position outside of the first-gen community. It wasn't until I applied to a master's degree program that I felt alienated and unsupported.
Karen Joest
Faculty and Staff
When I wanted to apply to college, my high school guidance counselor said, "Karen, you shouldn't go to college, you're just not the type." 
Diane Carlton
Faculty and Staff
Being a first-generation college student allowed me to make a career for myself instead of just having a "job." I was able to pursue a field that I loved, as opposed to just going to work as a secretary or working in retail.
Carolynn Struble
I never thought that I would be a first-generation college student. Growing up, attending college wasn't discussed because my parents did not go
Callie Cash
Faculty and Staff
Not only was I first-generation, but I was the first of the first-generation students in my extended family to go to college. I felt a sense of pride but also some pressure to live up to expectations.
Emily Phelps
Faculty and Staff
It means that as the first female in my family to go to college, I was doing something the women in my immediate family only had dreamed of doing.
Jyesse Behling
After graduating high school, I didn't fully understand the meaning of attending a university. Both my parents attended college, however they did not graduate. In the beginning, around my sophomore year as a transfer student, I felt out of place.
Wendy Lascell
Faculty and Staff
I had no idea what I was doing when I first arrived at college. I did not do well, academically, at first. I also didn't realize that a private school probably wasn't the best fit for me, and attended University of Rochester first.
Amarii Smith
Being a first-generation college graduate means a lot to me because coming from a family where college was either never finished or never started at all made me all the more determined to be the first to earn a four-year college degree.
Mara Silva
I sometimes think back on all the obstacles I had to overcome and feel satisfied that I’m able to sit in a classroom learning about the subjects I’m passionate about. And when I think of the future, standing at my graduation and having that opportunity to tell my parents that I’ve made it, gives me such a great feeling.
Greg Hummel
Faculty and Staff
Learning how to navigate a series of systems that I had very little access to prior to going to college was the biggest obstacle for me. College was an entirely different culture with new languages and unspoken customs that made it difficult for me to navigate, and not having access to services that helped to teach me how to navigate college made it especially complicated.
Jared Reynolds
Being a first generation student of any kind can be intimidating at times when you feel like you may be alone on this journey. However, in my experience, in many different aspects of life, those feelings of being on a path by yourself are largely internalized feelings that can be remedied, and proven untrue, through involvement in various organizations/activities, and overall a willingness to be "comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Marvin Rodriguez
Faculty and Staff
Being a first-generation student, I faced many unknowns. Navigating the academic system was difficult, and adding financial burdens to the equation created many obstacles.
Christine Edwards
My parents had no clue of the systems at play and how to maneuver them - I just stopped asking my parents for help about college concerns. I did not even know what questions to ask, often times I was finding out information after tripping many times on questions/situations.
Odalis Galeano
I know that my experiences are creating an easier path for my family in generations to come. It helps me believe that I am truly a leader and can correctly guide younger first-gen college students. My message to them has always been that anything is possible and they are not alone in this journey.
Unique Hodge
Faculty and Staff
Obstacles I faced were not having the knowledge of how college really works and the challenge of learning everything first hand instead of someone giving me advice.
Wesley Bernard
Faculty and Staff
There was no prior experience in my family to lean on. I was thrown into it and had to sink or swim. Honestly, sometimes I just floated.
Diane Williams
Faculty and Staff
I had financial challenges and worked four different jobs on campus at Geneseo. That certainly influenced my interest in working in higher education.
Ethan Chichester
To me, being a first-generation college student means that I'm taking control of my life and making independent decisions about my future. By being a first-generation college student, I have learned life skills and fundamentals of life. 
Daren Rylewicz
There are always the financial obstacles. My parents did not envision their sons going to college. Coupled with that, we were a blue collar working class family, so money was tight regardless. I was fortunate to excel at my studies in high school, and my local community college had a program where students graduating in the top 10 percent of their class could attend tuition-free. 
Daphne Thompson
Faculty and Staff
Financial insecurity, not having or able to do what peers could do socially. Unable to afford school supplies at times. Early on, determining resources available to support educational goals.
Donna Johnson
Faculty and Staff
Unfamiliar environment was the biggest. As an EOP student, we were together quite a bit as a group. The opportunity to navigate a new place with others who were in similar situations as I was made it easier to meet new people and get involved.
Sean Shannon
Faculty and Staff
The courses at SUNY Oneonta planted the intellectual seeds that a life of the mind was possible and provided me with the opportunity to earn a law degree, become an attorney, and ultimately earn a PhD and return to SUNY Oneonta to teach. Contrary to popular belief, the percentage of Americans holding a four-year college degree still remains quite low.
Maimouna Camara
My advice would be to go out there and talk to people, whether that be professors, faculty, or students, and advocate for yourself. 
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