Published: May 2, 2019 By ,
McNeill's Student Advisory Board

10 Pieces of Advice to be successful as a first-generation student in College

Four years ago, when I received my acceptance letter into college, I remember being very excited but also very scared. I was very ecstatic because I was the FIRST person in my family to attend a four-year university.  At the same time, I was very scared because again, I was the FIRST person to go to college in my family. Crazy right? I never thought it would be possible for me to have the same reasons for two opposite emotions. I went into college practically blind; I had zero knowledge about what to expect, what to do, or how to be successful. Being a part of the McNeill Academic Program here at CU Boulder enabled me to transition smoothly into college.  As a way of giving back to my community, I would like to offer ten pieces of advice to assist and ensure the success of first-generation students and college freshmen who are embarking on their college journey.

1. You deserve to be here – Own it

First, congratulations for earning your way into college. As you will quickly come to realize, college is no joke. There will be long, late nights where you will find yourself studying for your calc exam, which may or may not be useful to you in the future, or writing a long paper about a topic you have no interest in. It’s even possible to get a bad grade on an exam you spent a lot of time studying for, but in these moments, it’s important to keep your head up and not give up. Always remember that you earned the opportunity to go to college, therefore, YOU do deserve to be there.

2. Have the right mindset

Your first year of college is crucial because your performance often sets the tone for your whole college career. You should strive to get a high GPA your first year in college because as your college years accumulate, it gets harder to increase that GPA. Have the mentality that you will be the best student you could possibly be, and you will succeed.

3. Take Responsibility

So many times, as college freshmen, we feel like we made it. There’s this new-found freedom we have because parents are no longer there to give us instructions, but don’t forget that “with great power comes great responsibility” (Ben Parker, “Spider-man”). Our freedom is automatically followed with responsibility. Therefore, as a first- generation student, do not make the mistake of treating college like high school because college professors and other faculty members will automatically treat you as an adult, and they will expect you to be responsible. Your workload will increase significantly in college, but fortunately, so does your free time. Therefore, be responsible, study, and have every assignment completed on time. You can certainly have some fun in college but be responsible enough not to have too much fun.

4. Study what you are passionate about

Don’t choose a major to make someone proud of you, rather choose a major that you will be proud of once you have your degree. If you know you’re not the most gifted in science courses, don’t choose biology, chemistry or any other sciences as a major. You will regret it and loathe every single moment in college. As a first generation college student, I understand you might feel pressured to choose a career that makes your family proud, but you need to ask yourself this question: “Is it truly worth it to study something I hate and potentially risk not graduating from college?” My advice is DO WHAT YOU LOVE.

5. Be involved

My best memories in college were created when I got involved. Therefore, I would encourage you to make it a priority to be involved. You can join clubs or academic programs, pledge if you want, get an on-campus job, or even run for student government. Just make sure you only do as much as you can handle. The relationships and experiences you gain will be worthwhile.

6. Surround yourself with the right people

There’s a quote by Jim Rohn that says, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Likewise, I believe it is critical to surround yourself with like-minded individuals in college. These people could be your peers, faculty/staff, or even just individuals within your potential career choice. If you want to be great, then surround yourself with great people.

7. Avoid comparisons – this is not a race

Everyone has their own struggles in college, and most people know how to fake it to seem like everything is okay. Therefore, do not compare yourself to another student. If it takes most students 4 years to graduate from college, but it takes you more than 4 years, don’t spend your time worrying about that. The most important thing is that you graduate and obtain your degree.

8. Pay attention to the little things

I can’t tell you how many exam questions I missed because I neglected the small details given by my professor. I had a professor that used the same set of vocabulary words each class; I did not look up the definition for these words until toward the end of the semester when I got curious. To my dismay, these words pretty much summarized the entire course. I was devastated because I realized I could have done better in the course if I had paid closer attention. You might have a different experience but be sure to pay attention to the LITTLE details.

9. ASK for help

Do not feel obligated to do this on your own. I know college seems scary, and professors look scary, but I promise you that most professors are some of the nicest people you will meet. Make it a priority to meet with your professors regularly during office hours because I guarantee you that you will have questions and they will have answers. Asking questions will play a crucial part to your success as a student.

10. Do NOT take shortcuts!

I repeat, DO NOT TAKE SHORTCUTS! The best piece of advice I can give you is to enjoy the process of college. Every decision, regardless of it being good or bad, will teach you a lesson along the way. All the late nights of studying and doing homework will be worth every single minute. Understand that the road to success has always been bumpy, and it will not be getting smoother anytime soon because you arrived. Therefore, take this road with the right mindset and enjoy every moment of it.


Good Luck!