6 tips for first-generation students navigating the transition to college
Anne Arntson, for Middle Tennessee State University
Published 5:00 a.m. CT Jan. 2, 2020
College can be filled with ups, downs and uncertainty — and this is especially true for first-generation students. While it can be tough to blaze your own trail, you don’t have to go it alone.
Here are six tips to start you off on the right foot and help you feel more connected on campus.
1. Ask questions — lots of them
Being in a brand-new environment can take some getting used to. From figuring out where to go for extra academic help to finding the best study spot on campus, there is much to discover.
Get acquainted with your new surroundings and engage with the people who can help you best: academic advisers, returning students, professors and campus staff. With their expertise, you may discover new resources available to you and meet mentors along the way who can provide invaluable advice.
Finding out more about your school and the programs it offers can combat loneliness and help you feel more connected and in-the-know.
2. Seek out additional support
Many colleges have programs and support in place to help students of all backgrounds achieve their personal, academic and professional goals.
At Middle Tennessee State University, full-time undergraduate students can participate in TRIO Student Support Services, a federally funded program for students who meet one or more of these three criteria: being a first-generation college student, being income eligible, or having a documented disability.
The program provides students with free tutoring services; financial aid counseling, advising and budgeting; skill-development workshops; a computer and resource lab to complete coursework and more.
3. Get involved
Whether through being active in programs like TRIO, participating in one or many of MTSU’s student organizations, joining Greek life, or volunteering for causes you care about, you can find like-minded people who share your interests and have had similar life experiences.
Having the support of peers and people you relate to can make the college experience much more manageable and a lot less lonely. It can be comforting to commiserate with others over a looming exam or thesis deadline.
Plus, you never know what experience could spark your interest and encourage you to set out on a different career path, take up a new hobby, or make lifelong friends — or all of the above.
4. Check in with yourself
From studying for midterm exams to working part-time jobs to participating in extracurricular activities, there’s a lot to balance. At times, it can be stressful and, yes, even isolating.
Check in with yourself regularly and make sure that you’re taking care of your physical and mental health. If you’re running low on sleep and feeling overwhelmed, it can be hard to excel at your coursework and accomplish your goals.
Know your limits, and don’t be afraid to ask for help along the way. Through MTSU’s counseling services, students can sign up for one-on-one wellness sessions and group workshops on stress reduction and time management.
5. Discover what interests you
Most students don’t know what they want to do the minute they set foot on campus, and that’s more than OK.
College is a time to explore what interests you. Enroll in different general education classes and research your potential career options. When deciding on which major to declare down the road, think about the classes you’re taking, what you enjoy and what you could do less of. An academic adviser can help you determine your strengths and how to apply them to a high-paying future job.
If you have a career path in mind already but want to gain real-world experience, an internship may be right for you. MTSU’s Career Development Center can help you find one that matches your skills and interests — and craft an eye-catching resume and cover letter to ensure you stand out.
Remember, though: It’s all right to change course. MTSU offers more than 100 undergraduate majors. If you find that your initial major no longer suits your interests, you can pursue a different path and still graduate on time, all with the help of an academic adviser.
6. Make the most of campus resources
With MTSU’s many on-campus resources at your disposal, you don’t have to fend for yourself. Academic services are designed to support you and polish your skill set.
For example, the Writing Center at MTSU helps students hone their communication skills through one-on-one in-person sessions, writing partnerships and group tutoring. Not only can the center help you craft a thoughtful, well-researched thesis, but it can also help you develop your creative voice.
And with MTSU’s free tutoring services, students can gain a better understanding of difficult coursework, become more confident in their studies and improve their overall GPA.
There are also unique programs for student-athletes, including mentoring partnerships and the NCAA Life Skills program, which includes personal development programming and resources to help individuals achieve academic excellence.
Additionally, MTSU financial aid provides a wealth of information on scholarships specifically for first-time incoming freshmen, grants, loans, and work-study opportunities to help fund your education. Every year, MTSU offers $20 million in scholarships to students.
MTSU’s nationally recognized Student Success Program provides a wealth of resources for all students. They offer advice, emergency aid, interventions, and other resources. The overriding goal of the Student Success Program is help students successfully navigate the issues and problems that they might encounter and reach their goals in college and in life.
There’s a reason Middle Tennessee State University is the No. 1 choice in the Volunteer State for first-generation students. Visit mtsu.edu to discover why MTSU may by the perfect fit for you.
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