179: How First-Gens Navigate Social Mobility

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The past decade has seen an increase in the number of first-generation students in the U.S. attend four-year colleges and universities. This unprecedented shift is linked, in some part, to college initiatives aimed at reducing structural barriers to college access. Interestingly, social scientists believe improved educational opportunities for low-income students are among the most potent methods for stimulating upward mobility for first-gen students.

But in the U.K., things are different. Although a third of the students are first-gens, not many universities take it upon themselves to identify and tackle first-gens issues. Universities only cover the bare minimum of, say, allocating scholarships to cover the costs of attending college. Sadly, most students don’t know how to budget those resources. Moreover, data from the U.S. Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics suggests that 33% of first-generation students will drop out of college in their first three years. This proves that most first-gens, no matter the country, just don’t know how to go through college. It’s time to bridge the gap.

Life is not Always Black and White – 07:01

The one question that recent college graduates ask me when talking about life is post-college transitions. I often hear questions like, is it hard? How will I adapt to the culture shock? What can I do to guarantee a seamless transition? Well, the truth is, there is no right or wrong way to transition into life. And what works for you might not necessarily work for someone else. But, I will tell you this, life is not always black and white. There will be times when everything seems to click right into place and other times when everything fails. Sadly, first-gens don’t know how to navigate this part of the journey. And the fact that they have to figure out most on their own makes it more nerve-wracking. 

But, as Rufeida explains, you don’t have to know everything. So, start by knowing yourself– what are your goals, what are you most passionate about, and your plans for the future. Sometimes making a list of the things you want to achieve makes the intent more actionable. But always manage your expectations. Because, as I said, life is not always black and white. As you grow older, plans, passions, and goals change. Just make sure you’re the one who initiates the change. 

Focus on Your Target Audience – 10:45

Why is it that most entrepreneurs struggle with definitions? They grapple with questions like, who is my target audience? How can I reach them? How can I keep them coming for more? In the first-gen space, for example, there are numerous identity sub-groups clumped into first-generation college students or graduates. There are White students, students of Color, European students, all identifying themselves as first-gens. They are all first-gens, but they boast different elements that describe their identity. So, how can you target a specific group of people and create content that they will appreciate? Mind you; this does not explicitly apply to the first-gen space but all aspects of the business. 

The solution is simple– avoid, at all costs, the one size fits all approach. Rufeida explains that most people create content that targets a broader blanket of people because it’s easy, and there’s always room for adjustments. However, to get the most out of an entrepreneurial venture, you must target a specific group of people. So, focus, be flexible enough, and produce content that allows people to embrace their identities. 

What’s Your Definition of Success? – 19:16

For the most part, people never stop to ask themselves their definition of success. Instead, we may follow everyone else’s path, pleasing those around us, or chase the traditional view of success: money, fame, and social status. Nevertheless, you can only measure success when you define what drives your happiness and helps you find purpose. So, what is success to you? It could mean a sense of giving back to the world or a sense of accomplishment and career progression. It could mean being able to do the things you’re passionate about or raising happy and healthy kids. It’s entirely up to you. 

When defining success, take at least 15 minutes, sit down with a blank piece of paper and start describing what success looks like to you. You might want to focus on your immediate or near-future ideas of success. This makes it easy to focus on targets and appreciate how far you’ve come. Only when you do that will you have the courage, perseverance, and energy to keep moving forward. 

Rufeida Alhatimy is a UK-based first-gen student. Having graduated with her English degree, she has since managed to secure a place to study a master’s program at a prestigious London university. 

Her passion to empower and improve the experiences of fellow first-gen students has led her to start her own project called Social Knowbility. 

Rufeida loves the impact made when a community of people with shared goals and shared experiences comes together. Connect with Rufeida Alhatimy on LinkedIn.