Making the Match: First Gens, First Careers

April 15, 2014

Supporting first gens in balancing doing what you love with doing what will support you

First to Finish College (a joint project of Demos and SparkAction) spoke with several experts working with first gens who felt that the selection of major was critical to a student’s success—both before and after graduation. Advisers should work with students early on to match their areas of interest and talent.

The goal? To avoid a mismatch between students’ aptitudes and their majors and ultimate career plans. This can be a particular problem for first-gen students, who may feel pressure to pursue a line of study or work—like medicine or law—that their families are pushing for.

CynthiaAt the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, director of the Educational Opportunity Center Cynthia Long says, “We think it is important for students to spend some time making a wise, educated choice. We use career assessments, the Myers Briggs Type Indicator and the Strong Interest Inventory, to help the student learn more about themselves and the world of work. We encourage students to research career options at O-Net and the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook.”
But in addition to finding a good match for their interests, the hope, Long says, is that students will “select a major that is marketable and in demand.”

AdnersonAnderson Williams, chief product officer of the mobile technology company Zeumo and one of the founders of Oasis College Connection—a Nashville organization working to make college a reality for first-generation students—has thought a lot about marketable and in-demand skills … and who’s most likely to have them.

There’s a lot of discussion, he points out, about the underrepresentation of women in the STEM fields. “It would be hard for me to believe that there’s not some underrepresentation based on race and first-gen status in those careers as well,” he says.

Williams believes that some adverse selection process is taking place, and we need a campaign similar to the ones encouraging girls to explore STEM to promote this option to first gens, too.



  • Advisers: How do you help students find the right fit, weighing interests and marketable skills?
  • Students: What advice did/do you need as you navigate this decision?

Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Next week: we hear from two more first gen experts, Yolanda Norman, Manager of College Readiness at Houston ISD, and the University of Virginia's Ben Castelman, one of the forces behind a new text alert system for first gens.


Alleen BarberAlleen Barber, Editor of First to Finish College

Alleen Barber is a former op-ed editor and deputy editorial page editor for Newsday in New York. She attended Haverford College and holds an MA in sociology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


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

Alleen Barber