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How to Thrive as a First-Generation Student in College

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This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

College can be intimidating, especially as a first-generation student. From first hand experience, I can say that I’ve been through the worst of the worst during my first year at college.

After making all the typical mistakes,  like being late to class, forgetting assignments, and even shying away from my classmates for a while, I can finally say that I have been able to put together the best tips for being the most successful first-generation student you can be!

Armed with these, you’ll be nothing but confident and ready for your time in college. So, without further ado, here’s how to thrive as a first-generation student in college.

Get access to all academic resources ASAP

First and foremost, make sure you get in on any academic resources your college may offer early on. Programs that offer resources like additional financial assistance or free mentorship usually fill up quickly.

In order to be on top of your academics, make sure you apply as early as possible. You can quickly benefit from these resources and be ahead of your classmates effortlessly!

While applying, don’t forget to make an appointment with your advisor. Your advisor will be one of the most helpful people around when it comes to scheduling your classes and making sure you’re on track with graduating. It’s important to establish a personal relationship with them and understand what assistance they can offer you. 

Based on my experience, joining my school’s mentorship program helped me immensely. I was assigned a personal mentor who discussed my transitioning from high school to college, and he made sure I was on track for graduating on time as well.

The program pushed me to attend educational workshops that exposed me to networking tactics that are forever relevant. Being a part of this program improved my time at college.

Reflections of a First Generation Student

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

The biggest struggle for me when I was new in college was asking for help. It’s normal to have a million questions going through your head, and trust me, colleges are prepared for that.

There’s always someone out there willing to give you an answer; all you have to do is ask. No question is “dumb” in college, and most of the time professors are more than happy to offer clarification.

If you are having trouble preparing for an interview, head to your college’s career center to get assistance through mock interviews. If you’re having an issue with a topic in class, make sure to ask your professor if they offer office hours so you can ask away.

Most importantly, remember you’re not alone. A professor once told me to ask all and any questions because someone else is more than likely to be thinking the same thing, and it’s certainly true!

Find your niche

As a first-generation student, I found that a good support system is crucial in pushing you to be out there. Finding other motivated students like yourself can improve your productivity and make you feel more confident.

Make sure to look out for clubs and organizations that may fit your interests and/or background. I found that being around other first-generation students like me made me feel less alone. Knowing I wasn’t the only one struggling with understanding topics in class helped more than I can say.

Also, having a supportive group of peers around you is a major asset to your mental health, something that you should always be aware of while in college. If no clubs in your college catch your eye, try looking for friends from different colleges. Friends from other colleges can expose you to various opportunities and offer a great chance for networking.

Manage your time

One of my biggest regrets during my first year of college was not learning how to manage my time. Time management is the most crucial skill you will need to master as a first-generation student.

Know how many hours you can dedicate to study and work, and make sure you keep count of how much money you owe and if you have any pending payments. It’s easy to lose track of time, so be consistent with work while reserving enough time for both study and social life.

To help, get a planner and set frequent reminders. When it’s time to create your class schedule, keep in mind when you’ll work, when you’ll rest, and when you’ll study. This will make the process easier and lift a weight off your shoulders.

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Author: Emily Perez

Emily Perez is an undergraduate student at Baruch College where she's studying digital marketing. She loves creating fun and educational content helping first-gen students like her get through college. As a New York native, she enjoys wandering through the city and meeting new people.