Advice for First-Generation Students

As a member of the Career and Professional Development (CPD) team at Mercy College, I have the privilege of working with some of the most hard-working, determined and ambitious students. I am a first-generation college graduate. My parents migrated to the U.S in the search of a better life for my siblings and I. I can relate to many of you, as Mercy College is a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) serving approximately 32% Hispanic students.

It is a scary thought not knowing what to expect during your college career, especially as a first-generation college student. The lack of guidance at home can affect your performance; I know it did for me. I am here to provide you with three tips to enable you to make your career EPIC!

Tip 1: It is OK to feel scared, lost, frustrated and overwhelmed. Just keep going! Mercy College offers you various resources to help make your transition to college smooth. I vividly remember my first semester of college. I faced challenges, from trying to figure out new study habits, how to manage my time more effectively, what classes to take, to getting involved in clubs and organizations.

The transition to college is different for everyone, including first-generation and traditional students. Some resources you can take advantage of are the: Career and Professional Development office, PACT, Tutoring Center, and the Writing Center. Attend networking events, make new friends, connect with your professors and staff. Establishing relationships can help you grow personally and professionally on a short and long-term basis. For example, when you need advice, you can ask your professors, or when you need a letter of recommendation, you can ask your Career Coach or PACT mentor.

It was hard to step out of my comfort zone, but it needed to be done in order for me to make the most out of my college career. I was resilient and made the effort to take advantage of the resources offered to me. I know you can, too.

Whether you worked in your family’s business since a young age or helped take care of your younger siblings, skills gained through such work are transferable skills. Think about it, brainstorm…and write it down on your resume!

Tip 2: Don’t be afraid to ask for help! I remember being extremely shy to ask for help because I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone. Perhaps that fear stemmed from how I was raised, but regardless it was a fear that prevented me from successfully completing my first semester. I got a couple B’s and C’s and it was terrifying as I was always used to getting A’s in high school. Remember, you get out of life what you put into it.

During class, if you don’t understand a concept, raise your hand and ask for a clarifying answer. If you are uncomfortable doing that, email your professor or set up a time to meet them during their office hours.

This is your future we are talking about. You are investing in your education. Take advantage of all the resources Mercy offers. It is never too early to start talking to your PACT mentor, HEOP Counselor, Career Coach, etc.

Tip 3: There’s more to you than just your GPA. While your GPA is an important component at telling how you perform, it is not the sole factor to determine your potential. Being a well-rounded student is also very important. This means getting involved on campus and taking advantage of resources to get involved off campus as well. Not only will you start gaining relevant experience, but you will have an opportunity to establish friendships with your peers, faculty and staff. It is important to find a balance between maintaining a great GPA and getting involved.

I am not suggesting joining all the clubs on campus and doing everything humanly possible. Find a balance. Join a club (or two) that interests you, volunteer at your local youth group, or take on leadership roles, etc. This commitment shows an employer you can manage time effectively, while prioritizing your education. You are in college and your number one priority is to be a student and focus on your studies, and then once you find what study strategies work for you, get involved.

My freshman year I joined four different clubs, took five classes each semester (my thought process was: take more classes to get your money’s wort, turns out it was a bad idea) and I also joined a sports team. I quickly burned out and it was not practical. Don’t try to take on the world (just yet) or you will start losing focus, motivation and burning out.

As a first-generation student, you will most likely have to work twice as hard as a traditional student, but trust me, it will all be worth it. Use that to your advantage – you can learn to become resilient. It will make walking across stage on Graduation Day that much more gratifying for you and your family. Estoy aqui para ayudarte y brindarte orientacion professional. !Si se puede!

By Gina Villazhinay
Gina Villazhinay Assistant Director of Career and Professional Development Gina Villazhinay