LEARNING AND EARNING: First-Generation Students and the Transition from College to Career

April 8, 2014

New on the
First to Finish College
blog, a joint project of
Demos and SparkAction.

What to major in and which career to pursue, always big decisions, are particularly weighty questions with today’s economic instability and high youth unemployment. For first-generation students—who often come from low-income backgrounds and may not have access to models and mentors to show them possible paths—the issue of credentials and careers, or even what makes a good first job, is even harder to figure out.

While it's a powerful achievement for any first gen to complete a degree, the question of "What next?" comes quickly. Making a good next move after completing college is especially important for those first gens who lack financial resources to fall back on if they fail to make a wise choice.

On our blog, Ruth Bounous, a first-generation college grad and former director of the Social Work Practicum for Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, writes about a former advisee whose plans to take a required post-graduation licensing exam were derailed by a lack of confidence and financial pressures. Bounous’ tale is both cautionary and inspirational: With follow-up, her student ultimately sat for the exam and nailed it on the first try. But it took her five years to make that first try.  Read Ruth's story>>

Laura Siko, another first-gen grad and director of off-campus sites for Northern Virginia Community College, offers practical advice for helping students explore and navigate their career choices while in school.  Read Laura's Story>>

All posts in this series:



We want to know what you think. Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

  • What tools and resources do first-gens need to make a successful transition out of school?  
  • How can colleges and community-based organizations working with first-gens provide these? What are some effective models and practices?


Alleen Barber