This article was originally written for FirstGenerationStudent.com, now a part of ImFirst.org.
I think many high school students (including myself a few years ago) assume that college is everything they see in movies and television shows. In all honesty, I had no idea what to expect: I did not have a well-rounded network of college students who could answer my simple questions about everything I wished I knew about college. So, here are some of the most important things I’ve learned in college and want to pass on to up-and-coming and current first-generation college students.
One important piece of advice I would give to all aspiring first-generation college students is to reach out, talk with college students and ask them questions! More than likely, the students you connect with genuinely want to answer your questions. I know I would love to answer anybody’s questions about college, and that is why I pursued my current internship at my vocational high school. I am working as the Future Preparation Counselor Intern at Whittier Tech in Haverhill, Mass., answering questions, providing resources and simply having conversations about what it takes to be a college student.
Find a Mentor
Another recommendation that I would give to all students is this: Once you’re there, find your place on campus by finding a staff and/or faculty member that will act as your mentor throughout your college career. Everyone will tell you to “get involved,” and this does not always mean that you have to join a sports team or student council. I wish I knew that before! I found my place by applying for an on-campus job and by spending time with professionals who were interested in what I had to say. The professionals that work at colleges and universities are ultimately there to see you succeed, so if you create a bond with someone, they will work extra hard to see you through (as long as you also put in the extra effort).
Write Thank-you Notes
Odd but true, the biggest piece of advice I can give to all college students, especially first-generation college students, is to keep a stack of thank-you cards around. They cost about a dollar and they make a world of a difference in not only your college career, but your life! I use thank-you notes to recognize those who have helped me during my college career. For example, I write a short thank-you note to all of my professors at the end of each semester to let them know that I appreciate them taking extra time to help me in class and to remind them that I enjoyed what I learned during the semester. This has made an overwhelming difference! Think about it: When was the last time you received a thank-you note? Most likely you remember who gave you that note. Chances are, those you thank will also remember your kind gesture in the future, and the note may even be hanging in their office the next time you stop by. Practice the thank-you note tactic now: I am sure there are people in your life you can thank.