The job gap: Hidden hurdles along first-gen students’ path to employment

Lacking networks that afford professional connections, financial resources to take low-paying (or unpaid) internships and travel for interviews, and familial advice about how to navigate the job-search process, first-generation students—even those with degrees from prestigious universities—face significant disadvantages in finding jobs after graduation compared with their more affluent peers, the The Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

The cost of job-hunting

When seeking out their first full-time job, first-generation students often have fewer resources for professional clothes and transportation and more loans to repay. They also face higher rates of food and housing insecurity, making it harder for them to wait for the perfect job or take an unpaid internship.

Missy Foy, executive director of the Georgetown Scholars Program, says that first-generation students face “a huge gap in the internship pipeline” and believes that the practice of not paying interns “should be illegal.” The financial gap results in many lower-income students’ missing internship-to-hire paths and taking jobs out of economic necessity that offer few opportunities for upward mobility, which perpetuates income inequality.

The power of parents’ professional networks

In addition to facing a generational wealth gap, students whose parents did not graduate from college often do not have a built-in network of professional connections to help them in their job searches. College-educated parents “play a surprising role in deploying their networks to help their offspring get jobs,” according to Elizabeth Armstrong, a University of Michigan sociologist. First-generation students don’t have access to those long-standing connections, and university-sponsored mentorships and career counseling “often [are] not enough to level the playing field.”

No substitute for experience

First-generation students also miss out on the advice and guidance gleaned from experience navigating the professional world: which classes to take, whom to ask for help, when to pursue internships, and how to interview for a job. A first-generation member of the University of Pennsylvania’s class of 2019, who hasn’t yet found a job, told the Inquirer, “I didn’t know about internships, I thought it was rude and transactional to ask professors for help getting jobs, and I didn’t grow up with family members in professional jobs.”

“These soft skills are not taught in class,” noted Annette Lareau, a Pennsylvania State University sociologist. “Upper-middle-class parents just tell their kids this.” In her work with first-generation students, Lareau offers tips like sending thank-you notes to employers after interviews.


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