Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Fickling, Melissa J.

Second Advisor

Hart, Kimberly A.

Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

Legacy Department

Department of Counseling and Higher Education (CAHE)


First-generation college students (FGCS) are currently underrepresented in graduate programs, and therefore underrepresented in careers that require a graduate degree. There have been numerous studies on FGCS in undergraduate programs, but few studies done in graduate programs. Researching FGCS at the undergraduate level has helped to provide a better understanding of barriers FGCS can experience, and ways to provide them supports. This study looks at FGCS currently enrolled in Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)-accredited counseling programs in order to learn about their experiences. To learn about their experiences, an interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA) was utilized to answer the research question, “How do first-generation college students’ experiences in master’s counseling program align with Social Cognitive Career Theory framework?” For this study, a FGCS was defined as a person who had neither parent nor guardian complete a bachelor’s degree. I collected data through semi-structured interviews with ten participants, which were roughly one-hour in length. Social cognitive career theory (SCCT) was used as the framework for this study, and concepts of this theory were used to organize the findings. Eighteen themes emerged that were organized within SCCT concepts of barriers, outcome expectations, choice goals, self-efficacy, and supports. In the final chapter, I discuss potential implications for both higher education institutions as well as counseling programs.


114 pages




Northern Illinois University

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