Grad School for the First Generation Student

The process of applying to graduate school is a long one and varies for every student. Even though numerous graduate programs may carry different criteria they all ask similar responsibilities of the applicants. For example a student applying for law school will need to take the LSAT exam whereas a student applying for graduate school in education will need to take the GRE. A first generation student should not be deterred to apply for these programs due to the many fees associated with them. These fees may include, but are not limited to: application fees, transcript fees, travel fees and exam fees. For the most part, many entrance exams offer reduction fees and several graduate schools offer application fee waivers for students who show substantial financial need.

Another step to the graduate school application process is the use of letters of recommendation. No matter what school year you currently are know that every professor, teaching assistant or research coordinator is a resource that can be a key tool for you in the future. For example a professor that you create a strong bond with your freshman year can come as a great asset during your applications senior year. Never take for granted the use of your professor’s office hours and the ability to aid in research or assist with their projects. Creating and sustaining relationships during your undergraduate career is a vital part of the college experience. These connections will not only benefit you in the future but will allow you to spread your brand as you gain further education.

There is also a more personalized unit when it comes to graduate school applications in the form of a statement of purpose. This essay is a unique form for a student to tell their story to a program and why they should be selected. This letter will also highlight their many achievements and supplement facts to their resume. The statement of purpose is a great way for first generation students to distinguish themselves from other applicants and illustrate their passion for the program they are choosing.

First generation students most often do not have the resources other students with family members with college and graduate school experience may possess. Therefore, this student may not find a mentor within their family that they can confide in when it comes to how to succeed after graduation. Campus resources are great advantages for students who are pursuing further education after college. Many universities offer career and learning centers with professionals who are trained and educated on the successful transition from college to graduate school and the workforce.

These steps may seem insurmountable but with time and an organized strategy plan any student can complete the task. Knowing what your passion is and what drives you towards a career is a critical step when deciding to attend graduate school. Find this passion as an undergraduate and you will be successful in your endeavors after college.

Good luck!

More questions about graduate school? Leave them in the comments below!

Mike Gutierrez is a first generation undergraduate student at the University of Texas at Austin. He is currently in the process of applying to graduate school.

Focus on the Low-Income Student

Princeton recently formed a Trustee Ad Hoc Committee on College Access, which intends to increase college access for low-income students. Should the university actually focus on access this development is wonderful news! Socioeconomic status is one of the final social spheres that we don’t want to discuss in society. If we truly want people to be able to help themselves then we as a nation must do more to support the efforts of our young people.

It is my hope that with Princeton focusing on low-income students that other universities will follow suit. It is no secret that many institutions wait to see what the Ivy League does and then drastically tries to copy it even if the ivy institution has a mission statement that is completely different than the “modifying” institution. If Princeton suddenly makes it cool to really focus on the low-income student and his or her experience, especially at the Trustee level, then perhaps the rest of the academy will take notice.

What will ultimately be key however, is whether or not these institutions care as much about the low-income pipeline as it does about the high. Universities have built huge dorms and other fancy facilities in order to attract the wealthy. Some hire all-star faculty as well. Will we see a rise in the number of faculty that represent lower income students? Lower income students tend to come from minority backgrounds, and data already shows that faculty from these backgrounds have difficulty getting hired, and when they do they aren’t promoted and tenured.

The student experience at traditional colleges is very geared to the student who has all of his or her financial obligations met, and can study freely, do undergraduate research, mingle with faculty, etc. A committee on college access has to discuss how non-traditional students can make those same opportunities available to other students.


Low-Income Students SHOULD Be Applying to Top Colleges

The research shows over and over again that low-income students do well at “elite” colleges. However, top schools, including the Ivies, keep stating that they do not get applications from these students even if they are highly qualified.

A recent NPR report reemphasized the problem and hypothesized that part of the issue is that low-income students in areas where there isn’t a top performing high school just aren’t being encouraged to push and apply to these schools. You can check out the report here.

In the Washington, D.C. area we have several high schools that are geared toward preparing our varied population to attend college. However, even many of these students, as our own program shows do not necessarily know how to select a list of schools to which they want to apply, and how to prepare a competitive application.

We who work with young people have to encourage them to apply to all types of colleges. Many of these schools will provide a fee waiver for the application if a student reaches out and asks. One of the problems I find is that students are afraid to ask, or do not know to whom to write. We have to teach them to craft professional emails to people in power. This is one of the first lessons we teach in our program.

Another issue is that many times those of us who went to college rely on our own experiences. We have to remember that when we attended we were working with information that was relevant at the time. Just because we didn’t like a particular institution, or it wasn’t affordable to us doesn’t mean that the young people we mentor will have the same experience.

Encourage low-income students with great grades to apply to the schools of their dreams.  The schools are waiting for them.