How colleges are enhancing career services to support first-gen students

Planning for life after college can be daunting, particularly for first-generation students, but career centers are finding ways to address common hurdles. Education research and technology firm EAB recently highlighted several strategies institutions are using to support first-generation students in their college-to-career transition. 

According to EAB, first-generation students may face unique challenges in the career search ranging from having a limited professional network to simply not having professional attire. Students who are the first in their families to attend and graduate college also are more likely to have competing family obligations, work jobs off-campus, and participate in community service, potentially curtailing the time available to establish connections in their desired field and explore career paths. 

Career centers, alumni boost support for first-gen community

In light of these obstacles, several on-campus career centers and initiatives have ramped up their outreach to and support for first-generation students. The center at Colby College, a private liberal arts college in Waterville, Maine, has extended office hours to include evening and weekend availability, thus reaching students who may not be available during the weekday. Similarly, students at The Ohio State University in Columbus can pop in for virtual advising sessions with no appointment needed during two-hour blocks on Monday through Thursday. In addition, student groups at the university can request personalized workshops on career-related topics, such as networking, salary negotiation, and searching for internships. 

Related: $5M gift enables more first-generation and low-income Georgetown students to experience summer internships >

Colleges also are finding ways to give first-generation students access to the professional attire needed for interviews and internships. The University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 2017 launched a Professional Clothing Closet in conjunction with the campus food pantry. In its four years of operation, the program, which received seed funding from the university’s career center, has partnered with organizations such as IKEA and JCPenney, hosted clothing drives, and centralized the closet’s location to serve more than 300 students each year. 

Related: Georgetown Scholars Program helps low-income students build professional wardrobes >

Alumni networking is another area of focus at some schools. First-generation alumni, in particular, have been eager and insightful mentors and advocates for first-generation students at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, EAB notes. First-generation students typically have an easier time approaching and sustaining connections with alumni who navigated similar challenges. 

Social media, YouTube facilitating support, connections

Especially in a year of limited in-person interactions on college campuses, career centers and first-generation advocates are taking the opportunity to use social media and virtual communities to their advantage. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based Carnegie Mellon, for instance, is posting webinars and snapshot YouTube videos around interviewing and finding employment during tough times, placing career development advice right in the hands of its student community and nearly 3,000 subscribers.

Meanwhile, Valeria Garcia, the assistant director at the University of California Los Angeles Bruin Resource Center, channels her own experiences in overseeing the First-Gen Professional Network, an Instagram account that offers content focused on supporting students’ postgraduate transitions. Reaching more than 3,800 followers, Garcia covers topics such as budgeting, homeownership, and imposter syndrome, and spotlights other first-generation professionals’ trial and triumph stories. 

“I wanted to create a platform to bring that community together,” she told Daily Bruin, adding that discussions on life-after-college rarely address issues like paying off debt and working in fields where first-generation students remain underrepresented. 

Recalling her own experience as a first-generation college student, Garcia says there is a dearth of transitional curriculums for students like her—and she has sought to offer workshops that make her followers feel seen. 

“Reading the stories and connecting with other people just made me feel like I wasn’t the only one going through a lot of stuff or facing the same challenges,” Isalia Zumaya, a social media and communications manager for the nonprofit Visión y Compromiso told the Daily Bruin

EAB, Daily Bruin
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