We spend most of our lives preparing for that big moment of getting an acceptance letter to our dream school and showing your parents this achievement – a step toward the “American Dream”. But the reality is, being a first-generation Latina college student can be complicated, especially as you’re navigating so many firsts. Without a clear path to follow or lacking the resources and support to navigate attending college, going through undergrad can be a difficult journey. We work so hard to reach the ultimate goal: being la graduada. We work to show our parents and our families what we have been able to achieve for them and because of them. We work so much that we often forget what exactly happens after. We got our diplomas. We are Latinas with a degree, officially #educatedlatinas, but what happens once we are no longer a college student? Being first-generation can often mean lacking the connections and information needed to make the most out of college and set ourselves up for post-graduate success. Here is some guidance and advice to set yourself up for success as an undergraduate Latina as well as how to navigate post-grad life.
Stepping foot on campus, especially at these predominantly white institutions, can be scary. As first-generation students, our road to college is different from that of our peers. This can fuel our imposter syndrome as we begin to immerse ourselves in campus life. Something important that I found as a student was seeking community on campus. Surrounding yourself with students who have experienced similar journeys and share a culture with you can make the difference. Finding a group can lead to friendships and opportunities that can help you make the most of college. Joining Latinx student organizations can be a way to intersect your academic goals with your desire for community. Latinx student organizations can better understand the struggles of being first generation college students and Latinxs. These groups can be equipped to provide you with the support—professional development, academic help, community building—that you need to thrive in college. When attending your activities fair or an open house, you can find Latinx organizations focused on specific objectives such as pursuing the medical field or providing service to the community. Finding your path post-grad can be intimidating so having this established network to reach out for help, guidance, and support will make the transition a little easier.
Coupled with taking advantage of Latinx student organizations, matching with a Latina mentor or connecting with an alumna can also provide the guidance you are looking for. They have gone through the exact same process you are going through at this moment. With their perspective as a graduada or as a student about to graduate, they are able to support you through your mentorship as you navigate academia and the toll of being a first-generation student. The campus tour guides and university brochure only scratch the surface of what it means to be a student. Having a one-on-one conversation and professional relationship with someone who was once in your shoes can be so beneficial. Check out if your school has any programs that can connect you or reach out to the department for your degree and see if they have any volunteer mentors.
Along the lines of building professional relationships, if you are seeking to work straight out of college or apply to grad school, fostering those kinds of relationships is important. Speaking to professors, managers and peers can form relationships that you can look back on in postgraduate years. Through these relationships, you may find people who can speak on behalf of you as a job reference or provide a recommendation for graduate school. Imposter syndrome may stop you from seeking these opportunities or reaching out for support. Just know that like you, there are so many Latinas out there who share this experience with you. Imposter syndrome should not stop you from helping your career move forward. Even though it can be intimidating, taking the first step in introducing yourself and making yourself known can open doors for you. There are several organizations for Latinxs to help with career development including Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), Hispanic Alliance for Career Advancement (HACE), and the workforce development resource through UNIDOS.
To accompany those references, a substantial resume can set you for success post-grad. That sheet of paper can open so many doors and opportunities for you during or after your undergraduate career. Whether it’s a part-time campus job or a short internship, any work that you can add to your resume will ultimately be beneficial to you. If you are seeking work right after college, having some experience and references can set you up for success in your job search. Anything from your volunteer work to showing that you can commit through student organizations can showcase your abilities and skills to potential employers or at the very least give you an idea of what kind of work you want to do. Job search engines, career fairs, student organizations and even campus email lists can provide you with openings for internships, fellowships and jobs. Networking with Latinas on social media, especially those in your industry if you can find them, can also be helpful. Accounts including @academiclatina, @latinaswithmasters, and @latina_engineer, often provide resources and networking opportunities.
Taking all of the knowledge we have obtained in our undergraduate career, once it is time to head out into the real world, we must apply all we have gathered to build the life we’ve dreamed. Post-graduate life can be a scary and uncertain time for a multitude of reasons. If, for example, unsure of what kind of graduate program you would like to apply for, you might find this transition period difficult with the decision-making you have to do. If you find yourself looking for a job, it might take longer than you thought to secure a position which can be very stressful. That uncertainty is universal, you are not the first person or the last person who is feeling this way. We all move through life at our own pace and even if it seems impossible now, you will eventually find your place and career after graduation.
Being first-generation and underrepresented in higher education can make it more difficult to navigate post-grad as you enter the workforce or apply to a graduate program. With our resilience as Latinas and with the right tools we can manage the obstacles and challenges that arise once we are on our own after our undergraduate achievements. By making our way through undergrad we have proven to ourselves and our families that we are capable of achieving new levels of success with little to no guidance. As we continue to pursue higher education and find our place once we have our diploma, we can recognize and applaud ourselves for just how incredibly smart and talented we are for making it all this way. Whatever obstacles come your way, remember que eres una poderosa.