Advice for a First Generation College Student

How do you stay afloat, updated, and on track? Going to college is a challenge on its own, but to go to college and have no family member to rely on for college experience questions makes it even harder.

I am a first generation college student, and sometimes I feel like I blend in to the crowd, but many times I feel like I am out of the loop. I’m not going to lie, trying to figure out how college works on your own is hard. There are going to be times of shock where you learn something that everyone else just seems to know. But hey, you have to start somewhere.

My advice to you is to get involved and meet with as many advisors and professors as you can.

Getting involved in student organizations, Greek life, or even volunteering will give you a sense of community. Just like Greek life, many student organizations assign newcomers a “big” or a “parent”, which is like a student mentor for the organization itself, but these are also people you will grow close with and be able to ask a variety of questions to.

However, you are not limited to just asking questions to this mentor figure. Joining any community or group on campus of any sort will provide you someone to talk to. Just find someone you bond with. Don’t be afraid to be outgoing, and if needed, start the conversation yourself. “Hi, I’m new here,” is not a bad thing to say, and in fact that’s how I got pointed towards some of the best and most knowledgeable people I have met. It seems like everyone will excitedly talk about themselves and their college experiences, so learn from this. Even if they are a freshman, maybe they know a fun fact about the university, a neat program offered, or a cool study spot that you don’t know about. Take knowledge from anyone.

The University of Iowa offers a Living Learning Community for first generation college students. This means you will live on a residence hall floor with people just like you. You will learn together about the college experience. To learn more about the First Generation LLC, click here.

Also sponsored by the University of Iowa is the Iowa Edge program. This is an orientation to campus and college life.

As for meeting with advisors, this is crucial for first-year college students. Academic advisors will keep you on track to graduate and provide you with various opportunities that you may have never known to exist. This can range from first generation college student support groups, scholarships, or even simply something your advisor believes you may find interesting. Your academic advisor will be your greatest asset to guiding your college experiences. Of course, schedule however many meetings you are required to have, but schedule a few more. Really get to know your advisor so they can help you in the best way they see fit. After all, they are the one person on campus who seems up to date and knowledgeable on everything.

As for other advisors, this can range from professors to program mentors. Really, anyone can be an advising figure, you just have to meet with them regularly and ask them to share their knowledge. I have found going to professor office hours and just having a conversation with them has provided me a lot of knowledge about the university that I would have not otherwise gained, so don’t be afraid just to talk. It doesn’t have to be a formal advisor-advisee format.

Overall, my advice to you as a first generation college student is to be outgoing and meet with as many people as you can. You learn through experience, so don’t let an opportunity pass you by.

If you would like to learn more about being a first generation student at the University of Iowa, click here.

For resources to look into, click here.

Student involvement at the University of Iowa

Coming from a smaller high school, I was able to participate in just about every club my school offered. However, I knew in college I was going to have to find out specifically what I was interested in, because there were going to be a lot more options on the table and it would be impossible to be involved in everything. I looked at what I participated in high school, and out of these activities, I personally enjoyed National Honors Society, Key Club, and Dance Team the most. In all honesty, I wanted to continue these activities, and in college it is possible, but in a different form.

How to get involved:

I highly recommend going to a student organization fair to browse options and check out specific student organizations. The University of Iowa’s Fall of 2020 Student Organization fair has passed, but you can view all of the organizations here. This is how I found contact information for a handful of student organizations I knew I was interested in, and how I explored my options. Looking through these organizations really helped me decide what I wanted to truly be a part of.

In addition to the complete list of organizations, students will get emails directly from a variety of clubs sent to their student email addresses. Going through these emails (as tedious as it sounds) will help you look more in-depth at what various student organizations support and do around Iowa City. Going through all emails provides another outlet for students to get involved on campus. Often job opportunities, volunteer positions, and social event information are sent to student email addresses.

Intramural sports are another way to get involved on campus in a sport of your choice. Anything you can imagine from esports to intramural volleyball is offered, so there seems to be something for everyone. More can be read about intramural sports here.

Finally, After Class is a great webpage to look at what’s going on around campus. Much of the intramural sports, social events, on-campus job advertisements, and even event fairs (such as the study abroad fair) are featured on this website. It is great for students wishing to get involved on campus, even just to get out for one night as an impromptu decision. There is probably something going on.

What I got involved in and how:

  • Phi Sigma Pi (PSP) is an honors fraternity I found that reminds me of National Honors Society, but I think PSP seems to have a broader reach than National Honors Society because it seems to be more relationship focused. In this group, friendships and connections seem to be built all over the place as leadership, scholarship, and fellowship is explored. I found this student organization by checking my student email, but it is also listed on the complete list of student organizations.
  • Alpha Phi Omega is another fraternity on campus, but this one is a service fraternity (all about volunteerism). This is one of the student organizations I knew about prior to attending the student organization fair since an advisor from my high school recommended to me (I am an avid volunteer in my community back home). So, if you are into volunteering, I highly recommend checking this group out.
  • Circle K is a student organization that is in close relation to the high school clubs titled Key Club. Circle K is simply the college equivalent of this group if you are familiar with that high school club, but if not, it is another volunteering group.
  • Medicus and the Minority Association for Pre-Medical Students (MAPS) are two groups that I stumbled upon while browsing the complete list of student organizations. Both of these groups focus on pre-health students, guide them through some processes in relation to their academic track, and provide countless resources to help distribute beneficial information about the pre-health tracks and career fields.
  • The University of Iowa Dance Club is another group I just happened to stumble upon during a student organization search. Since I knew I loved dance in high school, I wanted to continue my experience in college and I found this group as the perfect way to do so. This student organization holds dance classes of multiple styles throughout the week, and functions off of a schedule where you simply show up to whatever class you desire to take. This could be one class a week, or ten! Personally, I love the aspect of schedule flexibility in this student organization, because it allows me to spend time doing other things around campus as well.

  • The Microbiology Undergraduate Student Association is a student organization I joined to be more in close relations to my major. I found this student organization during the student organization fair, but it is listed on the student organization list as well. As a microbiology major, I joined this group to find people who not only share the same academic interests as me, but also possible career paths.
  • Dance Marathon is the largest student organization on campus, and I joined because I have a passion for helping anyone in need. Being able to raise money for kids in need, help families in the pediatric hospital on campus, and being a part of a group dedicated strictly to this sparked my interest. Of course the big event (a 24-hour dance marathon) sounds impossible to miss as well! I heard about this student organization when I toured Iowa, and it comes up quite often in conversations and through media.

Overall, the University of Iowa hosts countless opportunities for student involvement, but not solely in student organizations. Finding something to do here is easy, because as a student you just have to figure out what you would like to participate in. If it isn’t an option, you can make it one.