Film preview: an eye-opening documentary about first-generation college students

A male college student carries books and walks on campus.

“First Generation” follows four high school students navigating the college admission process.

Thousands of American high school students aspiring to attend college are the first in their families to do so — or “first-generation” college students — and as the Go College! Now documentary film “First Generation” chronicles, access to achieving a college degree isn’t universal.

This award-winning documentary follows four college-bound high school students — Cecilia, Dontay, Jess, and Keresoma — on their journeys to higher education.

The Students’ Stories

Each student in “First Generation” has different strengths, unique perspectives, and individual motivations for taking that step to overcome the barriers to a higher education and become the trailblazer in their family.

As the film follows them through their junior and senior years of high school, the students are faced with daunting roadblocks that not only dictate which colleges they have access to, but that also may threaten their ability to attend college at all.

  • After Cecilia’s dad is deported to Mexico, her mother travels frequently back to Mexico. This leaves Cecilia largely on her own to decide how to shape her future.
  • When Jess’ school counselor encourages her to look at colleges outside of her hometown, she is faced with the fear of the unknown — her entire family has lived in the same valley for generations.
  • Keresoma is motivated to improve his family’s financial situation, but he soon realizes the financial aid and college admission process is much more complicated than he thought.
  • Dontay has already accomplished a lot by improving his grades in the classroom, but his habit of procrastinating on college applications while focusing on football and track set him back.

The Film’s Mission

Filmmakers Adam and Jaye Fenderson created “First Generation” to shed light on the social inequalities faced by those who are first in their families to go to college, and to spark a national dialogue about improving college access. As the film follows the students, it also fills in the bigger picture of the issue through interviews with some of the nation’s top education experts. They discuss the debilitating struggles first-generation college students sometimes face — struggles that are typically nonexistent for most higher-income families or second-, third-, or fourth-generation college students.

The film highlights how the barriers first-generation college students face can be lifted with early guidance through the college application process and increased education about the opportunities that result from a college degree.

“First Generation” runs one and a half hours, but a one-hour version is also available for viewing in settings like middle or high school classes. Both versions, a screening guide, and a comprehensive curriculum written to Common Core standards are all available for free at Go College! Now.

You can support universal college access by hosting a screening of the film at your school, your place of worship, or in your community center, using the resources available at Go College! Now. Teachers, counselors, and other educators can incorporate the film into their lesson plans. Finally, all audiences are invited to sign the pledge on the film website to raise the college graduate success rate for first-generation and lower-income college students.

Wells Fargo is proud to sponsor “First Generation” and to be a partner since 2014 in the Go College! initiative to help close the education gap for underrepresented students. Learn more on the Wells Fargo CollegeSTEPS resources page.

Watch the full film at Go College! Now.

Related articles