First Gen Students Break the Mold

We already know college is hard. But over 25% of the 2024 Class of UT Austin will have a very unique experience: being the first in their family to attend, and hopefully graduate from, college.

First-generation college students are trailblazers, but this title does not come without obstacles. They often have to do a lot of extra research and work just to figure out how to apply and fund their college degree. Once admitted, these students also must figure out a lot of aspects of college on their own. 

First-gen students are often diverse in other ways that impact their college experience. For instance, more first-gen students are employed than continuing-generation students, usually working more hours in a week. They tend to use financial aid services more than other students. Students that identify as Black or Hispanic/Latinx were more likely to be first-gen than their white counterparts as well. This often results in first-gen students feeling more marginalized, especially in departments and student organizations that are not diverse. Clearly, supporting first-gen students is and should be connected to any department-wide diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. 

As an immigrant and first-generation senior, Tam Vo says, “When you start to compare and beat yourself up because you don’t fit the expectation… tell yourself, ‘I carry this heavy but valuable background on my shoulders wherever I go. Not many people have that. I’m proud of how far I’ve come and what I’ve accomplished.’”

TXADPR is incredibly proud of our first-generation students. We asked them what advice and affirmations they would like to share with their peers. Here’s what they had to say:

Brenda Peña, Advertising:

“It’s so easy to feel like you don’t belong at UT when you’re surrounded by so much privilege, but trust that you’re there for a reason! Your semesters aren’t going to be always smooth but push through because it’s going to be so worth it when you get to the finish! Your semesters will get easier as time goes on, and as you learn your own ways of studying and learning. It takes time and practice to get to know yourself. But more than anything, remember that you’re smart and you are at UT for a reason!”

Haneen Haque, PR:

“I know I personally struggled with the idea that advertising & PR involves a lot of networking. A lot of your peers are going to have parents who work in this industry or their parents know people who can get them internships. And you might not know someone, or feel like you don't know where your future is going to take you, because you don't have that connection. But I say you shouldn't think that way. That’s something I worried about, but you just have to believe in yourself. One day, people are going to look up to you and say, ‘Wow, you got your foot in the door in such a daunting industry. And you did that without any connections, on your own.’

Another thing: choose every opportunity that comes your way. Apply. You don't know the connections you're going to make. You don't know the people you'll meet. Keep trying. There are going to be a lot of times you'll fail in life, and that's just a part of it. You just need to accept it and move on. Even if you find a position, but it might not be the right fit for you, go ahead and take that chance. Try it out. There's so many people you’ll work with who can give you great advice and help you make the most out of those opportunities. Let recruiters know what you really want to do and who you are.

The last thing I would say is that this school has amazing professors who come from amazing backgrounds. Don't be afraid to go and talk to them. They have connections, they know people and they can help you out. That's what they're there for. You might not feel like it's possible, you might be afraid to do it, but reach out to them. Send them an email. Set up a zoom meeting with them. Tell them about your concerns. Professors help us out so much. And they're so helpful because they know how hard it can be. So don't be afraid of doing that.”

Thanks to Tam, Brenda and Haneen! You can find Moody College’s Diversity Student Resources here, and university-wide resources for first-gen students here

Are you a first-generation TXADPR student? Do you have suggestions or resources to share with your fellow students? Let us know!

Alex Pinnell