Career Tips for First Generation College Students

If your parent(s) or guardian(s) did not complete a bachelor’s degree, then you are considered a first-generation college student. Many of the staff members on our Career & Professional Development team were first in our families to go to college! We understand that being the first in your family to obtain a degree comes with both amazing rewards and unexpected challenges.

The Career & Professional Development team is eager to support you as you navigate the college experience and the transition to your post-graduation career or continuing education goals!

Strengths of First-Generation College Students

As a first-generation college student, you have many unique strengths, qualities and skills that will help you on your career journey and move you towards career success! A few examples include: initiative, persistence, focus, motivation, self-awareness, resilience, responsibility, commitment, independence, resourcefulness, problem-solving, being value driven, and determination.

Lynn Wiljanen with Career Convergence points out additional important qualities you bring as a first-generation student:

  • A willingness to be first and take risks in pursuing a career
  • A genuine, intrinsic desire to have a better life through higher education
  • Wanting to bring pride to their family, school, and community with their academic and career achievements
  • A resilient spirit with the ability to persist in your goals and dreams
  • The desire and ability to overcome the odds of poverty, circumstance, lack of family support, and institutional barriers

Career Tips for First-Generation College Students

  • Create Meaningful Relationships. Have courage to share your unique story with others who can be your mentors and travel with you on your career journey. Developing connections and building your social capital will help you learn about careers, give you insights into the internship and job search, and develop your network. Faculty, advisors, supervisors and peers can all be great resources!
  • It’s okay to ask questions.  Your family members can help you answer questions about your history and values, which is a big part of finding meaning in your career. Your peers can help you answer questions about your own college experience because they may be going through it as well. Faculty, staff, and alums can help answer questions you have about career resources and share their stories.
  • Gain Experience. A college degree is only part of what you need for career success. A career advisor can work with you to find great opportunities to explore and experience different types of work and environments.
  • You are already on your path to career success!  Keep going! Take time to acknowledge your strengths and many accomplishments. Then assess where you are in the process, determine your next steps and who can help you move forward.

Questions to Ask Your Career Advisor

Your career advisor is here to help you clarify your major and career plans, teach you how to find jobs and internships as well as how to present your skills and talents in resumes and job interviews. Below are the types of questions it might be helpful to ask in your career advising appointment: 

  • Could you tell me more about your services?
  • I am not enjoying my classes and I am not sure if this is the right major for me.
  • Could you give me information on starting a… (resume/cover letter /internship search/job search)?
  • What are some career options for people with my major? What jobs have graduates secured?
  • How much experience do I need before doing an internship? How should I prepare for an internship?
  • What is the best way to find jobs/internships with in my major?
  • How can I find alumni with similar interests and backgrounds who can help me with my job search?
  • What organizations hire interns or full-time employees from my major?
  • I have a job interview coming up soon. What can I expect to be asked?  How should I prepare?
  • Why do people go to graduate school? Do I need a graduate degree? How do I apply
  • What is networking and how do I get started?
  • What should I be doing as a student to ensure I am able to get a good job after graduation?

The Career & Professional Development team is here to help you on your career journey! Check out our upcoming events or schedule an appointment with your Career Advisor online at Pioneer Careers or by calling 303.871.2150.

Adapted with permission from CEHD Career Services at the University of Minnesota.

By Heidi J. Perman
Heidi J. Perman Assistant Vice Chancellor, Career & Professional Development