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Facebook Helps First-Generation College Students

Facebook Helps First-Gen College Students A new research study discovers Facebook connections can improve the confidence of first-generation college applicants and help them succeed.

Researchers from the University of Michigan and Michigan State University discovered the powerful benefit of Facebook as applied to first-generation college students.

“We are very excited by these findings, because they suggest that the kinds of interactions supported by Facebook and other social media can play a role in helping young people, especially those who are traditionally less likely to go to college, feel more confident about their ability to get into college and to succeed there,” said Nicole Ellison, Ph.D., associate professor at the U-M School of Information.

Ellison says the social network helps first-generation applicants because they might not come into daily contact with people who support their interest in college or who can answer questions about it.

“Our message to high school students is that even if they are disadvantaged in terms of financial resources or parental support, social media can help them access resources they may already have in their extended social networks,” said D. Yvette Wohn.

In the study, researchers surveyed more than 500 high school students in lower-income Muskegon County, Mich.

They used statistical models to examine how various factors were correlated with the students’ confidence in their ability to apply to college and their expectations of success there.

The factors they examined include demographics, family history of college attendance, parents’ community involvement, and both informational and emotional support by parents, friends and Facebook connections.

Next, the survey gauged how well the students understood the college application process.

To do this, the survey asked participants about social media use and to rate how strongly they agreed or disagreed with four statements such as: “I know how to apply for financial aid” and “I know what I need to include in a college application.” Of the sample, 12 percent had used social media to get information about how to apply to school.

The researchers found that after controlling for all other factors, first-generation students who “strongly agreed” that they used social media in this way felt 1.8 times more confident about their understanding of the application process, compared with students who did not use social media for this type of information.

This correlation didn’t hold true for students whose parents had graduated from college.

To see how well the participants expected to do in school, the researchers had them rate on a scale from 1 for “strongly disagree” to 5 for “strongly agree,” statements such as “I am confident that I will fit in socially in college” and “I am confident that I am able to successfully graduate from college.”

Overall, first-generation students reported much lower expectations, with a mean score of 2.84, compared with 4.01 for the others.

Seventy percent of all students had a Facebook friend who either was in college or had gone and could answer questions about it.

The researchers found that all else being equal, first-generation students who strongly agreed that they had this type of Facebook connection were 2.3 times more confident in their ability to succeed in school, compared with their peers who had no Facebook friend they could talk about college with.

Researchers say more study is needed to figure out why these correlations exist – but they have some initial ideas.

“We think social media may demystify the college experience, because kids are able to see how others like them experience the process,” Ellison said. “Also, sites like Facebook make it easier to ask questions of one’s network.”

The researchers urge guidance counselors and administrators to explore new ways to help juniors and seniors navigate their next steps through social media. Perhaps they could offer application help through Facebook.

Ellison and colleagues from the University of Oxford and MSU are developing a Facebook app designed to help students identify people in their networks who might be good sources of information and support about college. They plan to launch it later this summer.

In this study, the team only examined students’ perceptions. The researchers are currently studying how students use social media to seek information about college as well as factors related to actual enrollment.

The study recently was published in the journal Computers and Education.

Source: University of Michigan

Facebook on computer photo by shutterstock.

Facebook Helps First-Generation College Students

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Facebook Helps First-Generation College Students. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 7 Jun 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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