Contributed by the Georgetown University Office of Strategic Communications
Soon after Andy Marquez was accepted to Georgetown University in 2016, he received a call from the Georgetown Scholars Program (GSP), a program that supports low-income and first-generation college students during their four years.
“They asked if I had any questions or needed resources,” Marquez said. “Right away, they made me feel that I was seen, that I was wanted, that I deserved a spot there and I had earned a spot there.”
Marquez grew up in a low-income neighborhood of Los Angeles; his parents had emigrated from El Salvador and spoke little English. Marquez was determined to be the first in his family to go to college and “build up from the bottom.” But he was apprehensive about a college price tag and choosing a university so far from his family.
One of the first places he found support was in Georgetown’s financial aid office, which offered him a need-based scholarship and assistance in making his college decision, wherever he decided to go.
“That’s when things started to click for me,” he said. “If I’m going to get through college, I’m going to need a village to help me through. My Jesuit connections and Georgetown put the right people in place for me. Without their support, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
The Georgetown Scholars Program and the university’s financial aid office are just a few of the support systems for first-generation undergraduate and graduate students at Georgetown. For example, the university’s Community Scholars Program, founded more than 50 years ago, has been one of the longest-serving academic programs to provide holistic support for multicultural first-generation college students in the U.S.
Guided by its Jesuit mission and value of cura personalis, or care of the person, Georgetown is committed to meeting the full demonstrated financial need of admitted students—and is one of only 35 liberal arts colleges and universities in the U.S. to do so. The university also offers programs for students to address their individual needs, circumstances and gifts.
Georgetown’s programming has not only been recognized—Georgetown received a First Forward designation from the Center for First-Generation Student Success in 2019 for its commitment in this space—it’s also helped empower student success. According to a 2021 Pew Research Center study, the average graduation rate for first-generation college students is 26 percent in the U.S. For first-generation undergraduate students enrolled in the Georgetown Scholars Program or Community Scholars Program, it’s 95 percent and 92 percent on average, respectively.
Undergraduate Services for First-Generation College Students
Georgetown’s Community Scholars Program (CSP), founded more than 50 years ago in response to the 1968 uprisings in Washington, D.C., and to calls for equal opportunity, is one of the longest-running university programs for multicultural, first-generation and underrepresented students. The four-year program offers support and culturally relevant programming for scholars both inside and outside the classroom.
During the summer before their first year, Community Scholars take two credit-bearing classes on campus to aid in their transition to college, interacting with professors, advisors and campus partners. Throughout their four years, Scholars receive ongoing academic advising, counseling services, financial aid, study groups and workshops to help build study skill strategies, relationships with faculty and staff, and personal development.
Yi Rong, a Community Scholar in the School of Nursing and Health Studies, said he was originally worried he wouldn’t be prepared for Georgetown’s academics, but felt swayed during CSP’s summer program.
“I wasn’t sure if I could handle the academic rigor of Georgetown,” he said. “But the Community Scholars Program gave me the opportunity to have firsthand exposure to what classes are like at Georgetown and what resources and tools are available for us through the Community Scholars family.”
“I speak from my own experience as a Scholar who joined a community of peers who had exceptional talents, resilient spirit and a capacity to recover and adapt in the face of adversity,” said Charlene Brown-McKenzie, director of the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access, which oversees CSP. “Community Scholars honors the unique histories and lived experiences of each of us in the program and helped us believe that we belonged here.”
Georgetown’s Center for Multicultural Equity and Access also offers pre-college programming and support for middle and high school students who will be the first in their families to attend college. Programs such as Kids2College (K2C), College Exposure/Dual Enrollment and the Institute for College Preparation provide academic, psychosocial and family support to empower students to graduate from high school and succeed in college.
‘Wraparound’ Support for Undergraduate First-Generation Students
Since its 2005 founding, the Georgetown Scholars Program has provided robust “wraparound” support for more than 1,500 low-income and first-generation college students, says Missy Foy, the program’s director.
This support includes scholarships, micro-grants for emergent needs, resources such as free mental health counseling, a course created by a Pulitzer Prize-winning professor on navigating the “hidden curriculum” of college, peer and alumni mentors, tutoring, dinners and events, and a community.
For Marquez, a 2021 graduate and now a wealth management analyst at UBS, joining GSP helped him feel connected to the Georgetown community. “That’s how I was able to build confidence, feel comfortable raising my hand, challenging someone, talking to administrators—being a part of this community at Georgetown.”
This year, GSP awarded more than $1 million in micro-grants for the hidden costs of college: flights home for Thanksgiving or spring break, health care, winter jackets and other emergent needs.
Community Scholars and Georgetown Scholars interested in the sciences are also invited to join the Regents STEM Scholars Program (RSSP), which is designed to expand opportunities for students from traditionally underserved communities pursuing studies in the sciences.
Support for First-Generation Graduate Students
Megan Lipsky is the first generation in her family to go to law school. When she was preparing for Georgetown Law in 2018, she learned about its new program, RISE, which supports incoming J.D. students from backgrounds historically underrepresented in law school, including first-generation college students.
“I’m grateful to have been a part of the inaugural class of RISE Fellows to help me discern the benchmarks and measures of success in law school—whether writing for a journal, competing in moot court or taking classes that would help me later on in practice,” said Lipsky, now a clerk at the D.C. Superior Court. “RISE taught me the unwritten curriculum of law school and surrounded me with like-minded people who became my closest friends.”
RISE offers its incoming cohorts—this year numbering 110—a weeklong pre-orientation to help them build community with peers and staff, prepare for school, and begin professional development. The program extends its support during law school with weekly meetings with RISE teaching fellows, mentorships with RISE alumni, community building, career development and small grants through alumni donations.
Georgetown offers other graduate support programs for first-generation and underrepresented students, including the Georgetown School of Medicine’s ARCHES program, which helps promising undergraduate students strengthen their research and clinical skills, and the McCourt School of Public Policy’s National Urban Fellows (NUF) program, which helps enable more students from underrepresented groups pursue tuition-free graduate degrees. In 2020, McCourt graduated its first cohort of Fellows, who were overwhelmingly first-generation college students. The program is part of McCourt’s commitment to be the most inclusive public policy school in the world.
This commitment to equity and diversity is what drew Alfredo Dominguez (MPP-E’23), a first-generation college student, to pursue his master’s at McCourt. He was also attracted to the school’s D.C. location, quantitative focus and financial aid package. The first-year student said his parents, while initially skeptical of his decision to attend graduate school and leave his hometown, are proud that he’s pursuing policymaking.
“It’s a real blessing to be able to sit around and think, especially for people from similar backgrounds who don’t have the time to reflect on broader issues that affect this country,” he said. “In that way, it is a privilege for my parents to see that for their son.”