The Best Advice for First-Generation Students

If you are the first in your family to attend college, you might feel like you’re in uncharted territory. From how to pay for college to selecting courses and making the most of your time at school, here are tips to help make your experience a successful one.

Use school resources

As the only child in your family (or any generation, for that matter), you probably don’t have many role models who are parents or even students. The advice of older generations can be helpful, but ultimately, it’s your job to figure out how to make your own path in life.

The good news is, you can turn to school resources to learn more about how to succeed in school and in life. Here are just a few things that might help:

You will likely start college with plenty of questions about how things work that your teachers won’t be able to answer. Ask them.

Talk to others. Get involved in campus organizations and clubs. They’re often great places to meet new people and learn even more about the world around you. You’ll also find that it’s easier than you think to get involved with student groups because many of them are open to everyone interested in supporting their cause or community building.

Push yourself

In college, there’s a huge push to go from being a child to being an adult. And that transition can be terrifying.

But there are things you can do in college that will help you in later life, and they all have to do with pushing your boundaries and taking on new challenges.

Believe in the power of diversity

The best advice that I can give to a first-generation student is to believe in the power of diversity. It’s not always easy, but it’s more than worth it. Being around people who are different than you has a profound impact on your life and your worldview.

Find a community of people who will challenge you and teach you things you didn’t even know you needed to learn. If your high school was a place where everyone was supposed to be the same, it was probably a place where you felt safe but rarely challenged.

Make sure you’re surrounded by people who challenge your convictions and make you consider things from a different perspective. That’s what growing up means — becoming more confident and more self-aware as a result of being around people who make you stronger.

Ask questions after class

Remember, the classroom is a learning environment, so reaching out to your teacher at OFFICE HOURS can be helpful.

Many first-generation students feel like they don’t have anyone to ask questions about their classes. It’s best to go directly to the source, because you’ll be able to get more information that way. If you can, meet with your professor at least once during the semester.

If you’re still confused about what you’re studying, consider asking for an appointment with your professor before class begins. This gives the professor a chance to explain things in more depth and allows you to ask questions if needed.

Join a club

It’s vital that you join clubs on campus that will help you meet new people and expand your social circle. We all know the importance of making new friends, but too often, students get stuck in their comfort zones, never talking to anyone else on campus. And even though everyone is different, there are plenty of clubs on campus that focus on one area of interest.

If you’re looking for something specific, consider joining a club that focuses on a particular interest. That way, you can meet new people who will appreciate having someone new around who is knowledgeable about their passion. If there isn’t anything like that on your campus, think outside the box and find other ways to learn new skills or expand your horizons beyond what’s offered at your school.

Involve family in the transition

First-generation students have a lot of pressure on them. They have to balance their own goals with their families’ expectations and remember that they might be the only member of their family to attend college. Their parents might not know what they’re doing, and there’s a good chance that their friends haven’t been through the process before either.

It can be difficult for your family and friends to follow your path when it’s different from what they’re used to, but it’s important that they know about it if you’re going to college. Try not to let this get in the way of your education — don’t drop out because you can’t handle the pressure — but do let them know so they can support you when things get tough.

Be an advocate for yourself and others in your community who may be lost in the process too. Talk about what it’s like and share resources and ideas so others will know where they can turn for help when things get tough.

Have a strong understanding of why you are getting an education

It’s important to know why you are attending college. College is an investment in your future, and it’s essential to understand what you want to do with your degree. You need to make sure you know what you want to study, what level of education (bachelor’s, master’s, Ph.D.) to pursue, and where you want to go for graduate school.s

You may have a very specific job in mind after graduate school. If so, you need to research the type of program that will best prepare you for the career you have chosen. You don’t want to waste time getting a degree that doesn’t help you achieve your long-term goal.

Find a mentor/role model in your field

It can be hard to find someone to mentor you when you’re just starting out. But there are lots of opportunities to find mentors without having to look far. Your school, professors, career center, alumni network, and employer are all potential sources of mentors.

If you don’t have a mentor that you feel comfortable asking for advice, there are other ways. Your school may have a career center that connects students with alumni who can provide guidance.

Unfortunately, finding a mentor doesn’t mean that the relationship will go smoothly; often, it takes time for mentors and mentees to develop an ongoing relationship where they can offer each other advice and guidance. As long as the two parties interact regularly and regularly ask questions, this type of relationship is ideal.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

The truism “Don’t sweat the small stuff” applies to students, too. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day minutiae of your classes and miss the big ideas that are important to your long-term success. So take a deep breath and focus on what really matters to you right now — not just in school, but after graduation, too.

Final tip: Seek out other first-gen students. Research shows that just by talking with other people who have gone through similar experiences, you’ll learn a lot more than you would from reading books or lecture notes alone. You can also ask them for advice on applying for scholarships or getting student loans — even if it sounds like their voice is coming from a stranger on the other end of the phone line, chances are you’ll find out exactly what you need to do and get help with filling out forms and applying.

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