I know I have to think about my career after college. How do I pick a major, find a job, or even decide what I would like to do after I graduate?

Many students experience struggles related to picking a major, finding a job, and considering graduate school. Some first generation college students find it confusing to know what they can do with a particular major, while others struggle with deciding on what their major should be. Sometimes parents have strong beliefs about the ‘usefulness’ of certain degrees. Fortunately, there are resources that can assist you with these and other questions, and prepare you for a job search or graduate application.

The Career Center (715 S. Wright Street, Champaign; 217-333-0820) provides career counseling, health careers advising, resume review, resume referral services, a mock interview program, the Career Library, Cluster, and Corners, and computer resources. They also work with Weston Exploration Hall, a living learning community in which students can explore majors and career options. Career counselors provide information on a variety of career related issues, including choosing a major, developing career goals, conducting job searches, and making decisions about graduate school.

I am concerned about how to pay for college. Where do I go for assistance? What resources do I qualify for and how do I find out about them? How long will my scholarships or financial aid last? What are the restrictions on financial loan? Are there any

Finances are a concern for many college students, but perhaps particularly so for first- generation college students and students of lower socioeconomic status. In addition to paying for college, many students may be experiencing their first savings or checking account, or opening a new credit card without a solid understanding about what credit is.

The Office of Financial Aid (Student Services Arcade Building, 620 E. John St., Champaign; 217-333-0100) is a very important resource for you to use. 

The financial aid programs include GrantsScholarships/WaiversLoans, and Employment.

OSFA can assist you with the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). In addition, Financial Aid Self-Service is available as a web-based resource for student to access their financial aid information online. Students may access student account information such as current balance, date and amount of their last payment, direct deposit, E-Pay, tax credit information, and hold information. If you have questions, submit them online at the OSFA website or visit their office to talk with a counselor in person. For information about outside and private scholarships, visit any of the following websites:

University Student Financial Services and Cashier Operations

The University Student Financial Services and Cashier Operations (Room 162, Henry Administration Building, 505 S. Wright St., Urbana; 217-333-2180 can answer questions about tuition, fees, billing, and payment.

Students can log into Enterprise Self-Service and create a separate billing address where all statements will be mailed.

How do first-generation students feel on campus? I am concerned how I will be different, and what it will be like to be the first in my family to complete college. What can I expect?

First-generation college students face all of the same struggles as their non-first- generation counterparts. However, there are some issues that are unique to this group. It is important for first-generation students to know that they are not alone, and that there are resources available for them.

Identity Development and Adjustment

First-generation students have a range of feelings about being the first in their family to attend and complete college. These feelings can include:

  • Excitement and Anxiety over being away from home at college, on their own, and the first in the family to attend college. These students may ask themselves, “Am I cut out to be a college student” and may believe that, despite their stellar academic performance in high school, they do not have what it takes to succeed at college.
  • Responsibility to help pay for their education, perhaps even more so than students of higher socioeconomic status backgrounds. In addition to financial responsibility, these students may be pressured by family and friends to return home often, and may receive mixed messages about their changing identities (e.g., wanting the student to succeed, but not wanting to be different from the rest of the family.)
  • Guilt and Shame about having the opportunity to attend college while others in the family had not been able or chosen to attend. There can also be shame around being different from one’s peers at school, when one’s peers have a long lineage of family members attending the University of Illinois or who seem to know the ‘lingo’ when a first-generation student does not. These students may wonder if it is fair for them to be at school while their parents struggle financially at home, and may feel that they need to go home to support their families.
  • Embarrassment and Resentment over one’s socioeconomic status or the level of education in one’s family. First-generation students may try to act like their family is more ‘highly educated’ or financially well-off than they really are to conceal their differences. First-generation students may also be embarrassed or ashamed of their academic performance if it is not as good as they or their families would like. Finally, first-generation students may perceive resentment from members of their families or extended families about them being able to attend college.
  • Confusion over the entire college process, from application to graduation to job or graduate school searches. These students may not be aware of the resources available to them, or what kinds of careers are available for them to pursue.

How might things change with my family now that I'm in college?

Families may feel ‘out of the loop’ around what their student is doing at college, as it is a foreign place to them. It is important that first-generation students and their families:

a) communicate about what college is like (e.g., how courses and schedules are different)

b) talk about what each person would like (e.g., how often they will talk on the phone or visit, etc.)

c) learn as much as possible about the college process and what to expect.

Many of the stressors that can arise within families of first-generation students may stem from a lack of knowledge about the college process. As much as possible, parents should be included and informed, so that both students and parents or guardians can communicate openly and clearly with each other.

What are some ways I can get involved in campus life?

With approximately 40,000 students on campus, there are many people for students to meet and interact with. Students may worry about having a social life, loneliness and homesickness, and dealing with conflict. There are a variety of resources available to help ease students into life on campus.

Counseling Center

In addition to group and individual counseling, the Counseling Center also provides information about and referral to other campus and community resources. Support groups are available at the Counseling Center. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call the Counseling Center at 217-333-3704. Appointments are strictly confidential and are pre-paid through your student health fee.

The Counseling Center has several self help brochures that may be particularly helpful, including Time Management, Stress Management, Self-Confidence, Test anxiety, Loneliness.

The Counseling Center Paraprofessional Program provides workshops on various topics, including “I love my family – They drive me crazy.”

Registered Student Organizations

Joining a Registered Student Organization (RSO) is a wonderful way to meet people while doing something you enjoy. There are more than 1,000 RSOs on campus. A great place to gain exposure to various campus organizations is by attending Quad Day in the fall and Activity Day in the spring.

Office of Volunteer Programs

You can also meet people through volunteering. The Office of Volunteer Programs (OVP) (288 Illini Union, Urbana; 217-333-7424) hosts various events including the Volunteer Fair, Make a Difference Drive, Holiday Toy Drive, and various other events. There are student organizations that focus on volunteer efforts, including Habitat for Humanity and others.
Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations (OIIR)

The OIIR seeks to improve campus climate by providing transformative learning experiences to the Illinois community that result in an appreciation for diversity and cross cultural engagement. OIIR contributes to the academic mission of the University by providing students educational opportunities about the various dimensions of diversity and intersections of identities.

Office for Student Conflict Resolution

The Office for Student Conflict Resolution is a place where students can go to get help with roommate conflicts, relationship problems, harassment issues, or instances of assault. The office offers a range of services, including Mediation Services and Student Judicial Affairs. To arrange a mediation session or for more information, call 217-333-3680.

International Students, Minority, and White First-Generation College Students

First generation college students may share their identities with others whose parents did not attend college, but there are often many subgroups within this population. First generation students may be international or domestic students, and may come from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds.

International students who are also first-generation may feel even more loneliness and homesickness due to the geographical distance between them and their families. They may experience very little social support initially, and this may be complicated by a language barrier if English is not their first language.

Similarly, students of color may experience inter- and intra-group stereotypes. They may be accused of ‘acting white’ because they are attending college. They may feel different from students on campus as well as from those with whom they grew up, and may feel very ‘out of place.’

White first generation students may also be the objects of stereotyped views. Others may assume that these students’ parents attended college, and may feel looked down upon when they are ‘outed.’ This assumption of privilege can come from within the group or from members of other groups.

Several programs on campus provide services to underserved populations, including international students and students of color.

International Students and Scholar Services (ISSS)

ISSS is committed to providing culturally sensitive services, and provides experiences through orientation, advising, programs, and outreach.  ISSS strives to create an environment that is conducive to a successful educational, personal, and professional experience. ISSS serves our international population and campus units through advising, immigration services, programming, advocacy, and outreach.

Office of Minority Student Affairs (OMSA)

OMSA provides leadership in development, implementation and coordination of support services and activities designed to assist minority students’ personal and academic achievement at the University of Illinois. Guidance and counseling support is provided to minority students in the areas of adjusting to college, financial aid, and career selection.