Graduation is Not the End of the Story for First-Gen College Students

April 8, 2014

Here's a true story that is also a cautionary tale.

As the adviser of a first-generation undergraduate social work major, I worked closely with Rosa while she was in school. The plan was that she would, upon graduation, take the state licensing examination for baccalaureate social work students and, at the same time, seek a job that she badly needed to support her family.  

FirstToFinishLogoA year after she graduated, I heard from her: She had still not taken the licensing exam and was unable to get a job as a social worker, so she was working in fast food.

We met and I asked what had happened. Upon graduation she had felt too unsure of herself to take the exam and was under great financial pressure to bringin money. She was earning minimum wage, had no time to study for the exam between work and caring for her children, and was feeling hopeless. I encouraged her to take the exam as soon as possible while the knowledge that she gained in college was still fresh.

I continued encouraging her and she continued postponing the exam. It took her five years after graduation to get up the courage to take the exam. She passed the first time around and immediately got employment as a social worker, which allowed her family to live above subsistence level.

The moral of this story?

We as academic advisers, cannot consider our job done when students graduate—especially first-generation college students. Academic programs must have a plan in place to follow these students and continue to encourage them to take the next steps toward employment.



Ruth M. Bounous
, PhD, LCSW, is a first-generation college student and retired faculty member from both Cornell University and Our Lady of the Lake University, San Antonio, TX. She is currently a psychotherapist in private practice.




This blog is part of the First to Finish College blog project, produced jointly by Demos and SparkAction.

Ruth Bounous



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