Who am I Now? First Gens Graduating, Leaving Another Home

April 29, 2014

This post is part of our First to Finish College series on First Gens and the Transition from College to Career.

For many, especially first-generation college students, the transition from college to career means leaving another home and moving on to an unfamiliar world.

AndersonAnderson Williams, chief product officer of Zeumo and former co-founder of Oasis College Connection, thinks keeping some basic psychology in mind is helpful throughout the entire period an adviser may be working with a first-generation student. Delving into some of the deeper issues at the start of the college experience—what does it mean that I’m leaving my family and doing things differently than others like me?—will pay off at graduation time.

CynthiaUniversity of Tennessee-Chattanooga’s Cynthia Long agrees: “It’s important that first-generation students develop a relationship with someone on campus so that they can go to them for advisement and adjustment issues. They need someone to answer questions because their family often cannot, because they did not experience college. For many first-generation students, the college process is a foreign and unknown language. They need someone they trust to answer questions.”

Once that groundwork is laid, it can come in handy as commencement nears.

“Think about the idea of transitioning from college to workforce, and put it through a transitions model: … loss, confusion, anger. I think it applies to transitioning out of college,” Williams says. Just as going to college, for many first-gen students, involved leaving home and family behind, graduating from college has some of the same dynamics. College is “still a bubble,” he says, and moving from college into work can add yet another layer of loss: leaving the family and an old identity behind to experience a new life and new relationships, “even if you feel you’re still a street kid at heart.”

The stakes are higher, too. Post-college life has yet another set of rules. “It’s not as safe as your college campus was, socially or emotionally or financially,” Williams notes.

Cynthia Long points out that “job shadowing is very important for first-gen students because often they have never personally known professionals in certain careers.”

Her school encourages students “to shadow someone and interview someone in a field they are interested in to learn more. For example, we have partnered with a local firm of attorneys to mentor our students who are interested in a law career.”

The nonprofit program SEO Scholars—which works in San Francisco and New York City—lays the groundwork for a smoother transition into the workplace by helping students get comfortable with some of these new rules.

Internships not only offer valuable experience in a particular line of work, they can introduce students to corporate culture: how meetings are run, how to manage up, how to advocate for yourself.

But internships aren’t the only option. Long notes that most students have to work while they’re in college. So she advises students to try to get those jobs in career areas they’re considering: “even if it is a low-level, low-paid, part-time job. They will gain valuable experience and meet people who can propel their careers.”


Alleen Barber
Alleen Barber, managing editor of the First to Finish College project,  is a former op-ed editor and deputy editorial page editor for Newsday in New YorkShe attended Haverford College and holds an MA in sociology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


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This blog is part of the First to Finish College blog project, produced jointly by Demos and SparkAction.  Find more great content on the blog homepage.

Alleen Barber