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Stories from First-Generation Graduates

Julia Schiavone

Julia Schiavone
Academic Adviser
Center for Advising and Engagement


The funny thing is that I had no idea what a “First-Generation Student” was until I was in graduate school. I hope that my story raises awareness that not all college students have the same support and experience from their parents or families. Those experiences are how we are shaped. 

Neither one of my parents went to college. I was the first of my immediate family to do so. In High School, I was very uninterested in the ‘college experience’ and only applied to two schools. I decided to start at community college and after 3 semesters, I transferred to a state school. It was hard. Transferring in the Spring semester, the weather was cold, it was challenging to meet people (as I lived off-campus), and I only had one day of orientation, which was overwhelming. So, I did not feel as though I had the ‘traditional’ welcome to college. 

As I put myself out there and got more connected through clubs, classes, and organizations, I became more social and had a better understanding of what I wanted to major in and how to work through my academic difficulties. I also obtained a work-study position in the residence life office, which improved my network at college.  

I put myself out there and tried new things. Any event I could attend, I did. I made connections in each of my classes with my peers and some of my instructors. Towards the end of my 4.5 years in college, I was given the opportunity to stay and complete a Graduate Assistantship that paid for my Master’s degree. Now I am working in Higher Education with students who each have their own story. I honestly had no idea what I wanted to do “when I grew up,” but trying new things and meeting people who connected me to new opportunities strengthened my experience and persistence to further my education. It has allowed me to help others.  

My experience was not a piece of cake. There were disappointments, hardships, bad grades, multiple adviser meetings, and tears. But through all of that, I made some great connections that I am still in touch with today, and my college experience shaped a lot of my adult life.  

My best advice to those of you is to put yourself out there. Try a club you don’t know anything about. Look for a part-time job on campus; you’ll get to meet new people and make some cash. Talk to your academic adviser(s) and your professors, they truly DO want to see you succeed. Some of the lessons I learned in college were hard, but they shaped me as a person, and I wouldn’t change anything. 

I am more than happy to meet with students who may be feeling out of the loop or unsure about how an academic policy works or who to talk to if  experiencing x, y, or z. I might not have all the answers, but I certainly would be glad to talk with you and come up with some possible opportunities to help alleviate the stress that can occur, when you simply do not know. I hope my story resonates with you and if you would like to talk to a fellow college/peer, I’m here to help. My email is