Tips for First-Generation College Students

Jan 18, 2024

Hey there Hired Community! Thanks to all of you who joined Zoila’s most recent Masterclass on Salary Negotiation. During the session we wanted to hear from you on topics that you’d like to hear from us! You’ve requested and we’re providing. One topic that stood out to me was on providing tips for a first-generation college student. I resonate with this topic especially at the graduate and post graduate levels and think some of the tips I’ll provide will be just as applicable regardless of if you’re a first-generation undergrad, grad, or post-grad student. It can be scary and feel like a lot of pressure, but with some support and tips like the ones below, you can do it with finesse!

1. Understand financial aid and seek assistance to understand your commitment.

While attending college is an amazing life experience, I recognize that it’s certainly not for everybody nor is it the path to sure-fire success; there’re several paths. However, if you choose to pursue college, then you should understand the financial weights that accompany the journey. Financial aid is one of the hardest hurdles for first-gen students and still stumps me to this day sometimes! As an undergraduate student that displays financial need then you may be eligible for Federal Pell Grants. The biggest benefit of these grants is that they DO NOT have to be paid back, so take advantage. Other areas to consider for financial support are:

  • State Financial Aid (HOPE Scholarship in Georgia or Bright Futures Scholarship in Florida)
  • Institutional grants and scholarships (be sure to research colleges that will apply scholarships for grades, race/ethnicity, specific skills or majors, etc.)
  • Private scholarships from foundations – check out!

If you do not have any support, you can also visit the US Dept of Education’s Federal Student Aid page for other resources, some of which you may have to make a promise to pay back. So be sure to exhaust all the free money options first!

2. Build good academic skills early!

Building new habits takes time and commitment. Building good academic skills early can truly set the tone for success later on. Additionally, a strong GPA leads to more scholarship opportunities! These are the areas that I’d suggest focusing on

  • Note-taking
  • Memorization
  • Time management: this one is crucial. When managing your time, I would challenge first-generation students to make reminders for important dates: financial aid deadlines, managing a part-time job to assist with your school bill, making time for fun, and of course studies!
  • Familiarizing yourself with class-specific requirements: For example, if your class requires a detailed research project, get in touch with library resources! Work smarter so that you can meet specific requirements with a bit less stress and ease!

3. Rely on your academic advisor and take advantage of faculty office hours.

If you need help, then you should say something early and seek the help that's available too you before it becomes too late. I grew up learning that “closed mouths don’t get fed”. Take advantage of your professors’ office hours, same goes for your advisor. Your academic advisor is there to help guide you, choose appropriate electives to ensure graduating on time, and can even serve as another person to support you on your journey. At the beginning of my undergraduate career, I did not visit my advisor much which resulted in me taking unnecessary classes and actually missing the opportunity to take classes that were semester specific. I learned my lesson when it was time to pursue my Masters. My advisor and I had such a good connection that when much of my family couldn't come to my graduation, she did! She even remembered me when applying for the doctorate program.

4. Build a community

Finding friends is so important because when things get hard, they’re there to support. Friends are important but again, remember, the importance of time management when being social. I would also encourage first-generation college students to join some form of campus club or honor society. On-campus organizations and honors societies can, again, be avenues that lead to financial aid. Additionally, finding like-minded students can serve as another support group. When I wasn't able to explain my struggles to my parents in a way that they’d relate, I was happy that I had built small communities around campus.

5. Be proud of yourself

This one is obvious :) You’re a first-generation college student! Keep focused and try to apply the tips in this blog so that you can become a first-generation college graduate!


Public Health Hired is excited to kick off 2024 with several blog topics that have come from you! Keep them coming and we’ll do our best to keep delivering. If you’d like to get more information about Public Health Hired, follow our Instagram @publichealthhired and check out our blog!

Public Health Hired Contributor: Adam is our new Senior Community Engagement Specialist at Public Health Hired and a Doctor of Public Health candidate at Georgia State University.

He has a background in health policy and work experience in global health. Throughout his career, he has collaborated with Ministries of Health, National Institutes of Health, and other public health agencies in over 20 countries across Latin America, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and insular areas in the Pacific on public health program delivery and capacity building. He is currently working as a contract Public Health Analyst at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention focused on policy analysis and partnerships to improve our nation's heart health and increase health equity. Connect with Adam on LinkedIn

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