At UMass Amherst we are dedicated to creating an environment where you, as a first generation college student, can be and feel empowered to get the most out of your undergraduate experience. We have developed a comprehensive array of supports designed to meet unique challenges often faced students by students who are the first in the family earning a Bachelor’s degree.
As the first person in your family to go to college you might have some questions about how to make the most out of college. In this section you will find relevant explanations, specific academic suggestions, online resources, and tips on how to get involved throughout your college career. All the information is based around the importance of you taking an intentional approach to your education, believing that your actions will guide your success. There are many resources at your disposal – some may be obvious and easy to find and others may require that you listen carefully and maybe even look for specific information.
In addition to programs and services, our campus is rich with many upper class students, faculty and staff who were/will be the first in their family to graduate college. As individuals who have ‘been in your shoes’ they are prime candidates to be a mentor for you through your college experience.
There will be a variety of structured opportunities to make connections, but don’t forget to notice the unexpected moments when you meet someone and realize they could be a resource for you too.
Getting the most out of your academics means going beyond simply completing the assignments for your classes. UMass Amherst is nationally classified as a Research One University, which means that you are being taught by some of the top people in their fields of study. They can help you discover ways to get involved in your area of interest in and beyond the class. They may inform you about research opportunities, connect you with other faculty members, or even internships. They can even talk with you about your future career options. While some professors may be available to talk after class, we suggest approaching your professor during their office hours. Beyond your professors, you will have access to graduate Teaching Assistants and Academic Advisors. Many of the schools/colleges and academic departments also have upper class students working as Peer Advisors/Mentors for your benefit. All of these people are here to enrich your academic journey, so never hesitate to reach out to ask a question or simply talk through your thoughts.
College vs. High School
You may wonder why we are talking about students needing support services.
While getting into college is absolutely an impressive achievement, once here you will encounter an environment that is very different than your previous experiences. There is a rhythm to life on college campuses that is very different from any family and home community rhythm. What creates this different rhythm? The structure of your course schedule (so many fewer hours IN class and so many hours of work expected to be done OUTSIDE of class); the likelihood of having big exams and/or large papers to write that involve extensive amounts/types of research; living in a residence hall filled with people often the same age; choosing when and where to eat your meals (not to mention choosing what you eat at each meal); needing to structure your social time (getting involved in clubs/groups, developing new friendships); etc. As the first in your family to attend college, you may not have heard about how to manage these ins and outs of a college experience. Getting guidance and support around these and other issues that arise is the key to a successful experience. Accepting the support in no way implies that you are less capable of high achievements and happiness in college. In fact, being able to ask for and accept the suggestions from others actually indicates a self-confidence and commitment to achieving the highest levels of success.
What are the most important things for a student to do to be successful in college?
First is your attitude. Bring a strong personal drive and a willingness to seek out new opportunities and build connections across campus.
Be responsible - check your UMass email on a daily basis. You will find critical information from the university (registration, housing, bills), as well as communication from your professors and advisors.
Be fully present in the moment – in other words, be thoughtful and reflective and willing to grow.
How do I find “my community” on campus?
Since people have multiple elements to their identity and a variety of interests, it’s good to think about meeting a variety of people from different “communities” and creating more than one single friend group. Of course you will make connections with the people living in your residence hall, the students in your first year seminar and your RAP (if you joined one). Beyond that, you can meet people through one of the Cultural Centers, Campus Recreation activities, or one of the more than 500 student groups on campus. Make sure you take time to attend meetings and events with different groups to find your place on campus. How to build your team.
What about paying for college?
Never hesitate to reach out to our Office of Financial Aid or check out this link for financial resources. Find out how the financial puzzle pieces fit together.
How do I stay organized with everything I am involved in?
Take advantage of organizational tools that will make your life a bit easier. Make sure you work with whatever is most comfortable for you. If you prefer technology, keep an up-to-date calendar on your phone or computer. If you prefer pen and paper, make sure you keep your planner updated.