It can be incredibly rewarding to be the first in your family to graduate from college, but it can also be difficult. We understand the unique perspectives and questions that first-generation college students might bring, and we want to build on your strengths to help you succeed. 

Over 20% of our student body is first generation (students whose parent(s) or guardian(s) did not complete a four-year college degree, including students who do not reside with or receive support from a parent or guardian). If you are one of the first to attend college in your family, you have reason to be proud!

The college application and financial aid processes can be confusing, especially if they are unfamiliar, so we have broken down each step of the process in this guide. You can always contact us with any questions as well!

First-generation voices

Gray Cox, Faculty in Philosophy, Peace Studies, and Language Learning

The architectural legacies of class differences are a regular reminder to me of how different institutions can look when you are not welcomed in through the front door. For me, human ecology is about welcoming everyone into the shared learning process and celebrating the gifts they each bring.”


Lothar Holzke ’16, Academic Services Administrator

“When communicating with students, I am constantly considering the information/imagination gaps that exist between them and administration. I reflect on my time as a first-generation student and count dozens of instances of struggle and missed opportunity that were avoidable if I’d had only the benefit of knowing that opportunity was possible and how to leverage it. Intentional support for first-gen students has improved dramatically at COA, I think in large part because our community is moving away from the tendency to assume our students and peers know everything we (faculty and staff) know and can self-advocate. I see it as a responsibility to anticipate what pieces of information, however seemingly obvious, will bridge those gaps.”


Anna Bradford ’23 

“I’ve met some of my closest friends through COA². I 
live with three of them. They are people whom I consider family, and who are my strongest support 
systems, who allow me the
space to be crazy when I can’t be crazy. 
We were in the original group when COA² started.
 It is nice to find your community within this larger 
one. [COA²] was able to allow us to block out time 
for fun. In my experience here, for a lot of us first-gen students, we are so focused on 
work. We don’t allow any time for fun, and COA² helped with that.”

You are not alone. There is a network of support and resources to help you throughout your time here, from the day you arrive to the day you graduate.


Kourtney Collum, Faculty in Food Systems, Partridge Chair in Food and Sustainable Agriculture Systems

“I was a first-gen college student. The first time I heard other faculty refer to themselves in that way I felt an enormous sense of belonging. And I’ve noticed that as staff talk about our identities (and particularly the obstacles we face/faced to getting to where we are now) some students become more comfortable talking about their own identities and the challenges they may face at COA.”


Krystal Meservey, Registrar

“Being a first-generation student myself gives me insight into the challenges and barriers that this group of students can face and to always have those in mind when I am working with our students here at COA. This allows me to identify when students are experiencing the same or similar challenges and barriers. I can then use my experience to share ways to combat these challenges and find ways that I, as a staff member of this community, can combat a challenge or knock down a barrier a student is experiencing.”


Sarah Ottinger ’25

“Moving 1500 miles away from home and coming to COA as a first-generation college student was a really scary decision for me. Still, when I arrived at COA, I was welcomed with open arms and introduced to peers with similar backgrounds to me through COA². I found having this base of peers to start my college career really useful in not feeling alone. As may be true for many first-generation college students, I work a few jobs to pay for school, and I have also found the community here in Bar Harbor to be lovely to work in. I work at the YMCA and have found a second home there.”