This research project aims to analyze the experiences of first-generation college students as they transition to an elite postsecondary institution—namely, a private liberal arts college—which is the setting where they are the least represented yet the most marginalized. I hope to answer two primary research questions. The first is concerned with examining the formal and informal processes that shape the college transition experience for first-generation students, and to what extent such processes work to their advantage or disadvantage relative to their non-first-generation peers. To elaborate, from an institutional standpoint I examine the role administrators play in implementing programs or providing resources geared specifically towards addressing the needs of first-generation students, and how a prevalence or absence of such supports determines whether this population struggles or succeeds in transitioning to college life. Furthermore, on an individual level, I inspect how the particular social and cultural context of a college campus shapes the everyday lives of these students, particularly whether and how they find community and a sense of belonging among their peers similar or dissimilar to themselves. I employ two primary research methods. The first is a quantitative survey that is intended to record demographics of the first-generation population at the study site, along with information that can provide an initial portrait of first-generation students’ beliefs and sentiments regarding their college transition experiences. My next research method is qualitative by contrast and involves 15 to 20 in-depth interviews with self-identified first-generation students who will be recruited from the campus-wide survey initially distributed to the larger student body. My purpose is to acquire a more holistic understanding of the ways in which first-generation students attending elite colleges conceptualize, experience and navigate the college transition process, from an institutional and social/cultural perspective.

Type of Work

Thesis - Limited Access

Department or Program



Hamilton College


Bachelor of Arts

Date of Graduation


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
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