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Stories from First-Generation Graduates 

image of Melissa Wetzel

Melissa Wetzel

Academic Adviser

Department of Human Development and Family Studies


As a first-generation college student, my parents wanted to help guide me but often didn’t know how. I remember feeling overwhelmed with the number of resources available to me on campus but not knowing where to begin. Ultimately, I strongly believe I ended up where I was supposed to, but there were definitely a few hiccups along the way. 

For as long as I could remember, I thought I wanted to become a pharmacist. I started out my college career at Slippery Rock University as a Biochemistry Major because that seemed like a linear track to Pharmacy School. Plus, I enjoyed my chemistry courses in high school. Well, my first semester in college was a little bit of a wake-up experience for me. The pace of a college course was much quicker than high school (15 weeks versus a full school year), plus I had added responsibilities including a part-time job, dance team, and I had become involved in several clubs and organizations – all good things, but I hadn’t quite figured out how to balance it all, yet. I was used to being a straight “A” student throughout high school and being towards the top of my class, so earning my first “C” in college felt a bit gut-wrenching.  

I decided to continue on the path, though. It wasn’t until Spring semester of my sophomore year in college that I took an Introduction to Psychology course and absolutely fell in love with the field. To my knowledge, we didn’t have any Psychology courses in high school, so I hadn’t been exposed to the subject area. I had my blinders up for so long and was finally starting to peak around the corners. The summer between my sophomore and junior year was full of tears and arguments with my parents. As a first-generation student, they couldn’t understand what I could do with a Psychology degree. Pharmacy was something they saw all time – you go to the local grocery store and see the town Pharmacist there. They also knew Pharmacists made a decent living and wanted to ensure I was able to provide for myself and not struggle financially.  

Ultimately, what helped me was first helping myself. I decided to do some research regarding what one could do with a Psychology degree and proposed a plan with my parents which they eventually got on board with. The plan, at the time, was to change my major to Psychology and keep a Chemistry minor since I had already accumulated so many chemistry credits by that point. I planned to still apply to Pharmacy School, since I learned that you could major in anything to go onto Pharmacy School, as long as you met certain pre-requisites. Then, if Pharmacy didn’t work out for whatever reason, I could consider other alternatives (to be determined), but I knew I would be much happier with Psychology alternatives opposed to Chemistry alternatives. 

Jump forward a few years, I completed a one-year post-baccalaureate program in Pharmacy at the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine. However, by the end, I knew there was something missing for me. I decided to consult with the Career Counselors at my alma mater and learned about a graduate Program in Student Affairs in Higher Education with College Counseling. Bingo! I could help other students navigate college and figure out what they wanted to do with their lives. It hit all of the boxes in terms of what I was looking for in a grad program and how I could help others. I knew, at that point, that there was more than one way to go about my desire to help other people; it didn’t have to be through pharmacy. 

There were a few things I didn’t realize when I started college that can hopefully help others in the future: 

  1. A major doesn’t equal a career. 
  2. It’s okay to not have everything figured out. 
  3. While scary, it can be okay to start over. 
  4. Learn from your past. 
  5. Have the difficult conversations with both your family and yourself. 
  6. Take advantage of the resources available to you. 
  7. It’s just as important to figure out what you don’t like as it is to figure out what you do like and want for yourself and your future. 

If my story sounds at all familiar and you’d like to chat, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at