#AdvocateFirstgen: Students in the Workforce

The Center / March 02, 2021

How can faculty, administrators, staff members, and student organizations #AdvocateFirstgen in employment- and workforce-related areas?  

According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, 66% of first-generation college students were employed while enrolled in college. First-generation college students worked more hours while enrolled, and a greater percentage were employed in off-campus positions than their continuing-generation peers. 

Balancing working and attending college full-time has negative implications for first-generation college students, particularly those who are considered to be from a low-income background. COVID-19 further highlighted challenges faced by many first-generation students who work as front-line and essential workers. Many of these students’ families are dependent on their wages, and students may be reluctant to change jobs especially for a short-term opportunity that can benefit their career. They may be unable to take on internships (especially if unpaid) in order to build experience connected to their career interests.

Administrators, staff, faculty members, and students can use the following tactics to maximize the value of first-generation students’ current work experience as they explore other opportunities:  

  • Engage the career services office to ensure that communications announcing job and internship opportunities, online systems (e.g., Handshake), or career-related events clearly state that opportunities services can be accessed with no additional cost. 

  • Offer workshops or checklists for first-generation students who are working in service or retail jobs to identify, document, and highlight transferable skills gained in current roles.

  • Review high demand workplace competencies with first-generation students during resume-building sessions to ensure their descriptions of current work experiences align.

  • Consider offering early bird hours or a tour for first-generation students who may be unfamiliar with navigating traditional career fair events. 

  • Explore partnerships with local employers to create on-campus employment opportunities such as call centers or other professional opportunities.

  • Investigate local and/or state campaigns related to raising the minimum wage or improving other working conditions. Join an existing phone bank or organize a calling campaign to the appropriate officials to express support.

Managing long work hours, traveling to off-campus workplaces, and meeting course requirements can be challenging for first-generation students. Highlighting the skills and competencies first-generation students are acquiring in any employment setting will position them for a successful transition to the workforce, even if they are not able to participate in internships, summer fellowships, or resume-enhancing experiences traditionally associated with college students. Recognizing the value of all work experiences and creating opportunities for students to showcase their skills is another way to #AdvocateFirstgen.

What strategies have helped you to successfully champion first-generation students? Share your perspective on first-generation student advocacy and pertienent policy issues across social media with #AdvocateFirstgen. 


RTI International. (2019) First-generation College Students Employment. Washington, DC; NASPA. Retrieved from https:firstgen.naspa.org/files/dmfile/FactSheet-04.pdf.