This article was originally written for FirstGenerationStudent.com, now a part of ImFirst.org.
Is it a myth that earning a college degree will allow first-generation students to smoothly transition into the workforce?
First-generation college students face the same challenges that all college graduates do when it comes to finding a job after earning a degree. With a highly educated public, landing jobs is competitive. However, more jobs than ever now require a college degree and by 2016, that number is expected to rise by 15 percent. Any college graduate landing his or her first “real” job will have to adjust in order to transition from the role of student to full-time member of the workforce, but job preparation and mentorship programs at the college level can help students adjust well.
What challenges do first-generation students face during this transition, and why do they tend to encounter more difficulties than non-first-generation students?
All college graduates are at least a partial reflection of what they’ve learned in their home environments. For students who grew up around parents that earned college degrees and held jobs that required that education, the transition to the workforce may feel more natural and they may just know how to act based on what has been modeled for them. This is not the case with most first-generation college students, so there is more of a learning curve. Some first-generation graduates may even feel some level of guilt in achievement, especially if they feel alienated from family or friends.
A first-generation college graduate may also not know who to talk with if he or she is struggling in a new career or feeling overwhelmed, which is where mentorship and outreach programs at colleges need to intercede, even after the student has graduated. It is not enough to simply release first-generation students into the field and wish them “good luck.” Colleges must have transitional programs in place that check in with graduates regarding their job search and early career endeavors.
What should first-gen students do to prepare themselves for the challenge of finding a good job after graduation?
When possible, first-generation students should seek internships or shadowing opportunities in their chosen career paths. Ideally, those opportunities would be with people of similar backgrounds so that a college student can envision himself or herself in the same shoes after graduation. All college students should also be exposed to interview and resume writing classes to help them know how to seek out jobs and land them. Job placement programs are very helpful, but students also need to know how to look for jobs on their own.
How important is it to decide on a career path before graduation?
It is important to not only have an idea of where you want to go with your life after graduation from college, but to also look at non-traditional ways to use a degree. For example, a student earning a teaching degree may also want to look into management at after-school tutoring companies or writing work for textbook companies. The truth is that the majority of job changes occur early in a person’s career, so it is good for students to know that their first job may not be their best choice for their long-term career. If college graduates discover that a particular job, or even career path, is making them unhappy or is a bad fit for their lives, there is some flexibility regarding the careers options available with their degree. Of course a person with a business degree cannot just apply to become a nurse, but perhaps that person could try public relations or government research. The workforce is always changing and new job titles are created daily. A college degree in any field opens the door for many more opportunities than the credential that is listed on the diploma.
Where can a first-generation student turn for help if they are having trouble transitioning into a good job after graduation?
The very best place a first-generation college student can get help is at the college itself. This may come in the form of an academic adviser or someone in the career center. Even if a first-generation college graduate did not make a connection with anyone in these departments while on campus, these college employees will be happy to provide job advice. Contrary to the belief some hold that colleges just want students’ money, I believe they are invested in helping graduates succeed. It is also wonderful if a first-generation student can find a career mentor before graduation who can give industry-specific advice on finding and landing a great job after graduation.
Just for fun: Who is your favorite musician/band, and why?
Nas, because his music tells a story and edifies at the same time.