First Generation College Student Career Resources
First Generation and Low Income Students
If you are the first person in your family to navigate the college world, or if you’re not quite sure how you’ll fund it, but you know you want to go, please know that there are more people out there who share your situation than you think, and that there are also a lot of amazing resources and people who are out there to help you figure it out. According to the First Generation Foundation in 2017, around half of college students in the United States are first generation. So that puts you in good company! You don’t have to go it alone.
My number one piece of advice here is ASK QUESTIONS. No one expects anyone to know everything, and if you don’t have immediate family who are familiar with the process, it’s ok. Your guidance counselor, job supervisor, teachers, coaches, friends’ parents…all can be great sources of information or can help you find someone who does have an answer, even if they don’t.
A lot of colleges and universities have specific support for first generation students, whether that’s a special orientation program, scholarships, advisors, or other resources, and finding them fast and using them to your advantage can make a major difference in your college experience.
If money is an issue, start at a community college. You’ll do your general education courses for much cheaper than you would at a 4-year institution (and you’ll still get a great education), then you can transfer to a 4 year school for your more specific major coursework. Or check into 3 year programs which enable you to get a degree in a shorter amount of time, cutting out a whole year’s worth of student loans. Do your research, talk to your guidance counselor, and ask the financial aid office about any opportunities for scholarships—they exist across so many different areas and you can be eligible because you live in a certain town, have been involved in sports, have relatives in organizations like Rotary or the Masons, or potentially even because you are a first generation student.
As with any student, you should also get familiar with your career center (or if you’re in high school, your guidance office). They can do everything from talking through your values, ideas and skills, to getting you ready for job applications and interviews. They also offer a lot of exploratory programs if you’re not quite sure what you want to do or even what your options might be. Start exploring early. Get advice about how to gain experience and try things out.
You might not have a direct pipeline to the answers through your family, but you do have the resources to find out everything everyone else does, to create a network of people to give advice and assistance, and to learn about whatever career you might want to pursue. There’s always the internet too—don’t underestimate the power of Google!
Here are some resources which can help to break down some of the things you might not know, point you in the direction of answers and support networks, and give you a foundation of knowledge to build on as you enter college/the world of work.
- First Generation College Student Guide –Affordable Colleges Online
- Center for First Generation Student Success—University of Michigan resources
- NASPA First Generation resources—Center for First-Generation Student Success through NASPA (Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education resource guide
- America Needs You --The America Needs You (ANY) Fellows Program is an intensive two-year program for high-achieving, low-income, first-generation college students.
- I'm First--I’m First!, an initiative of Strive for College, is an online community celebrating first-generation college students.
- First Generation Professionals Initiative-Program for first generation federal employees
- First in Family—Advice about college from first generation students
- US News Report Where First-Gen Students Can Find Scholarship Help
- AccessLex Diversity Pipeline Program Directory—for law students
- Don't overlook the unique skills of first-generation professionals
- Law School Admission Council First Generation blog series
- First Generation Students and the Job Search (Wentworth Institute of Technology)
- What You Should Know as a First-Generation College Student (U.S. News & World Report)
Job Search Resources:
- NACE – First-Generation Students: Job Search Resources
- CareerSpring-online career platform with opportunities for networking and job openings
Professional organizations are usually national organizations who research and advocate on issues related to their target demographic. The organizations below can offer resources, information and advice on legal rights, and opportunities for networking, job searching and education.
- First Generation Foundation-- encourage first-generation college students to pursue academically rigorous postsecondary educational experiences.
- Rise First-- An online community for first-generation achievement
- College Advising Corps –places full-time college advistors ino high schools across the country with the goal of increasing opportunity for first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented students.
Employers and companies offer diversity initiative and trainings. Look for programs which are aimed at your demographic, and you can gain professional development, leadership skills, networking opportunities and internships.
- Capital One First Gen Focus First-Gen Focus is a program designed specifically for first-generation college students as part of Capital One’s broader effort to engage students earlier in their college careers to create access to financial education and skill-building workshops to help them be more successful in their college careers and beyond.
- Year Up Partners with companies to provide opportunities for young adults to gain
the skills, experiences, and support that will empower them to reach their potential
through careers and higher education.
- Fortis Fellowship-Over three years, the Fellowship provides mentorship from high-level professionals, individualized internship and career advising, leadership training workshops, and access to a worldwide network of exceptional student leaders.
- First Generation Civil Rights Fellowship Program, or FirstGEN, is a paid summer program for undergraduate students who are the first in their immediate families to attend college and who intend to pursue careers in social justice.
- Marketing EDGE First-Gen Virtual Mentoring Program--this program gives first-generation students connections to company executives, meaningful career explorations into the marketing and advertising industry, and enhanced professional development.
The Performance Project--First Generation brings together young adults ages 15-22 who self-identify as "first generation,” for artistic training, leadership development, and inter-generational mentoring.