The 10 Best Colleges For First-Generation Students

Two college students wearing face masks
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This story originally appeared on Zippia.

Going to college can be scary for anyone.

But for first-generation students, it’s entirely new territory.

It can be overwhelming trying to find the best college to attend, especially when some schools do a poor job of helping first-generation students acclimate to the college environment.

There are a multitude of factors that contribute to first-generation students’ success in college. Active and supportive student organizations, personal life circumstances, financial support and academic programs are all a few areas that can contribute to student performance.

Using data from the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard, we ranked more than 1,800 universities in three areas:

  • Percent of first-generation students who completed a degree within four years at original institution
  • Five-year repayment rate for first-generation students
  • The median debt for first-generation students

We only looked at four-year universities. While junior colleges can be an excellent choice for first-generation students (and serve as a bridge from high school to university for those who wish to go on to receive their four-year degree), we wanted to examine the colleges that do best with students from freshman year on.

So, which college should you choose? Our research found that these colleges were best, and most helpful, for first-generation students.

10. University Of Washington-Seattle

Aerial view of roads leading into Seattle at sunset.
Punit Sharma Fotography /

4-year completion rate: 72%
5-year repayment rate: 79%
Median debt: $12,588

The University of Washington-Seattle is the 10th-most supportive college in the U.S. While its 72% completion rate is high, the college’s 79% repayment rate is definitely something to brag about. This college knows it shouldn’t break the bank to get a good education.

9. Johns Hopkins University

Johns Hopkins Hospital
Richard Thornton /

4-year completion rate: 79%
5-year repayment rate: 77%
Median debt: $12,500

Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore is the ninth-most supportive school for first-generation students. In fact, 79% of those students graduate from this university within the typical four years. Plus, 77% pay off their debt in five years.

8. Brown University

Brown University
aastock /

4-year completion rate: 80%
5-year repayment rate: 88%
Median debt: $12,755

Stopping at Providence, Rhode Island, brings us to our next college: Brown University. The school boasts an 80% completion rate and an 88% repayment percentage among its first-generation students. Additionally, students at Brown typically average only $12,755 in debt.

7. Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center

Texas Tech University
IrinaK /

4-year completion rate: 85%
5-year repayment rate: 79%
Median debt: $12,499

The next university on the list is located in Lubbock, Texas. Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center earns its seventh-best ranking due to 85% of first-generation students graduating within four years.

6. Yale University

Yale University
Helioscribe /

4-year completion rate: 89%
5-year repayment rate: 81%
Median debt: $10,000

Yale University makes an appearance at No. 6. This ranking is mainly based on the fact that 89% of first-generation students graduate within four years, which is the sixth-highest percentage in the country.

5. Cornell University

Cornell University
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4-year completion rate: 87%
5-year repayment rate: 88%
Median debt: $11,813

Halfway through the list is Cornell University. The college has one of the highest completion rates, 87% among first-generation students, while having an even higher repayment percentage of 88%.

4. Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt Unversity
Sean Pavone /

4-year completion rate: 90%
5-year repayment rate: 87%
Median debt: $11,500

Vanderbilt is the fourth-best option for first-generation students. That’s due to having the fifth-best completion rate in the U.S., with 90% of first-generation students graduating within four years. Well, that and the fact that 87% of those students repay their debt within five years of graduation.

3. Duke University

Duke University
Steven Frame /

4-year completion rate: 92%
5-year repayment rate: 87%
Median debt: $10,925

Duke University earns its spot at No. 3 in the country for its 92% completion rate among first-generation students.

2. Middlebury College

Middlebury College
Margaret Berry /

4-year completion rate: 89%
5-year repayment rate: 83%
Median debt: $8,695

Middlebury College, located in Vermont, is next in line. Among this school’s first-generation students, 89% graduate in four years.

1. Stanford University

Stanford University
turtix /

4-year completion rate: 84%
5-year repayment rate: 89%
Median debt: $8,009

All the way across the country in Stanford, California, is our first choice for first-generation students. Stanford University boasts high completion rates of 84% for first-generation students, and 89% of them are able to repay their debt five years after graduation.

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