8 Things First-Generation College Students Should Know

01/04/2021

As a first-generation student, it can sometimes feel like you’re being thrown into a boxing match with no gloves, no coach, no training, and an award-winning opponent that’s five times your size. These feelings are valid, but it’s important to remember that while you may be the first in your family, you certainly won’t be on this journey alone. In the U.S., 56% of the college population are first-generation students. 

Starting college can be intimidating for anyone but, as the first in your family, those feelings are often amplified. First-generation students face unique barriers compared to their peers. Things like lack of financial resources, support, readiness, and even personal guilt for “breaking the family system” and traveling down a different path than their loved ones.

To be the first at anything requires resilience, determination, and confidence that you’re fully capable of this achievement. To help get you ready for what’s to come, we’re offering practical advice on how to survive and thrive in this new stage of life.

1. Apply for scholarships

One of the biggest challenges first-generation students encounter is the lack of financial support. Studies show that about 50% of all first-generation college students in the U.S. come from low-income families, creating an obvious disparity.  The good news is that there are scholarships out there to offer help. Start by checking with the college you’ll be attending and civic groups in your community.

There are also a multitude of scholarship websites and apps that can help you in your search. To save time and find an opportunity that’s unique to you, you can even filter opportunities by scholarship type. Unlike student loans, scholarships won’t put you in any debt and, once approved, you can focus on what matters most, your education.

2. Take advantage of support resources

As a first-generation student, your family is likely going to be unfamiliar with the challenges college can bring and how to go about navigating them. Therefore, it’s extremely important to seek out additional support—from enrollment all the way through graduation. 

Many colleges have free support services in place, including tutoring, technical support, career services, and guidance counseling. Don’t shy away from the extra assistance. These resources are in place for a reason and can help you grow academically, sharpen your time management skills, and advise you on courses to take that will prepare you for the career you want.

3. Talk to instructors

One small but meaningful way to stand out amongst other students is to make yourself visible to your instructors. Show them that you’re invested in their course by speaking up in class, emailing them with questions, and taking full advantage of their office hours, especially if the course pertains directly to your field of study. 

By building a professional connection with your instructor, you’re opening up the door to new opportunities for mentorship and firsthand advice. If they know you personally, they’ll also be more willing to write you a letter of recommendation and pass along relevant internship/job opportunities within their network.

4. Get involved

As a first-generation student, the college experience can feel lonely. While you may not have a direct support system when enrolling, you can build one relatively quickly if you put yourself out there. Joining student organizations, attending social events, and participating in community service opportunities are great ways to make interpersonal connections on campus, while also building your resume. 

If you’re not sure where to start, most colleges will post a list of student organizations or an event calendar on their website. Many also host interactive fairs where students can browse campus opportunities and speak with representatives to get a better understanding of what they’re signing up for.

5. Don’t overexert yourself

While getting involved in your campus community can be an incredibly positive experience, it’s important to only take on as much as you can handle. Many first-time students don’t set aside the time they need outside of their classes to complete their coursework. 

For instance, you may be taking a class that only meets twice a week, but the out-of-classroom assignments could take an additional 10-25 hours a week. A good rule of thumb is to start light and re-evaluate what extracurricular activities you think are attainable after the first semester. If you do end up overloading yourself and start to feel overwhelmed, many schools offer counseling services at no additional charge.

6. Don’t doubt yourself

Self-doubt isn’t unique to first-generation college students. It’s something that everyone experiences at one point or another when stepping outside their comfort zone and taking a big life step. Don’t let that little negative voice in your head get the best of you. Find confidence in how hard you’ve worked throughout your life to reach this point, and know that you’re going to go on to accomplish great things that will positively impact your family for generations to come. You’ve got this!

7. Choose a program you love

If you take anything from this list of advice, let it be this: choose a program that you feel passionate about. Some people may know what career path they want to pursue right off the bat, but for many, it takes time. Start by scheduling an appointment with a career advisor to talk through your options and build out your first semester with elective courses to gain an understanding of the subjects you enjoy before committing to a major.

8. Weigh your options

While the “traditional” route of obtaining a two-year or four-year degree is a great option, it’s not the only option. If you’re looking for theoretical and practical, hands-on knowledge, a specialized bootcamp can be a great alternative. And—these courses often come at a reduced price tag. 

It all comes down to finding a reputable program that offers immersive, in-depth training that will prepare you to enter the workforce with confidence. It can also be a great opportunity to achieve the experience you need to succeed in a shorter time-frame with greater flexibility. This is particularly helpful if you’re working a full-time job or raising a family and need to take weekend and evening classes.


First-Generation Advice

Now that you’re better equipped to succeed as a first-generation student, it’s time to take the leap! At the University of Miami, you can build a future from any starting point. Our Digital Skills Bootcamps offer professional certificates in cybersecurity and digital marketing, both highly in-demand and sustainable fields. Students benefit from a unique support system, including a network of hiring partners, dedicated student success managers, and personalized career prep services, including job placement assistance. 

So remember, you’re not in this alone! Contact us to learn more about the University of Miami Digital Skills Bootcamps and how we can support you throughout your educational journey.

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