| This study compared pre-master’s background, student engagement and educational gains between first-generation students (FGS) and non-first-generation students (NFGS), using a dataset of master’s student experiences at a research university. Compared with NFGS, FGS entered master’s education with disadvantaged family and educational background. After enrollment in graduate education, the relatively unfavorable family cultural capital of FGS did not lead to their insufficient engagement in education activities on campus that required a lower level of family resources, yet their participation in cross-border activities that required family input was significantly lower than that of NFGS. At the exit of master’s education, no significant difference was seen between two groups of students in course gains, research gains, access to further education and education-job match. However, FGS were still at a disadvantage in global competence and job opportunities in metropolitan cities.