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When the first in a family goes to college

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Students at New York University graduation
New York University graduates celebrated during commencement ceremonies in 2007.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton, Sonia Sotomayor: What do these successful people have in common? Each was the first in his or her family to go to college.

Such so-called first-generation students face all the normal burdens of entering and adjusting to college life, and a few more besides. They may lack good role models and the financial support available to the children of college-educated parents.

"Because of a lack of familial support and support in schools and in their communities, low-income first-generation students generally lack good information and support to navigate the college application process and the colleges that are most committed to their success," Matt Rubinoff told USA Today. He's the director of I'm First, an agency that tries to help such students succeed in college.

What are the challenges that face first-generation students? And what are the resources that can help them succeed?