Career Development is dedicated to providing resources and supporting Willamette students whose parents never pursued higher education, got a degree, and/or are first in their family to attend college by tailoring our services to meet your unique needs. This page is filled with resources, articles, and tips to help you navigate the career process and connect to what comes next.

Qualities and Strengths of First-Generation College Students

As a first-generation college student, you have several important strengths and qualities that you bring to your education and your career development process. In an NCDA article titled “Career Development of First-Generation College Students: Pioneers in Our High Schools” by Lynn Wiljanen these traits were identified as:

  • A willingness to be first and take risks in pursuing a career
  • A genuine, intrinsic desire to have a better life through higher education
  • Wanting to bring pride to their family, school, and community with their academic and career achievements
  • A resilient spirit with the ability to persist in their goals and dreams
  • The desire and ability to overcome the odds of poverty, circumstance, lack of family support, and institutional barriers

Many of these characteristics align with the career development process and we are excited to begin working with you!

Career Barriers for First-Generation College Students

You may already be aware of several career barriers first-generation college students may face in their career development process. We want to address a few of these barriers while also identifying ways that we can work together to overcome them.

Career Barriers for First-Generation College Students Advice and Support from WU Career Development
Less likely to access resources We recognize that first-generation students often feel undeserving of using resources available to them, or they may feel the need to “go it alone” and traverse college as a self-reliant adult. In Career Development, we are active in colloquium so students see us early at WU, we conduct presentations in classes, and host drop-in appointments in our office in the UC and in the E&E in order to make resources more accessible to you.
May lack a professional network or networking skills We recognize that first-generation students may find the networking especially daunting. We can help get you started with our Comprehensive Networking Guide (built by a student who is first in family) and we can teach you how to build a network. We can also get you started by introducing you to professionals/alumni and teaching you how to find professionals to connect with.
May not ask career-related questions or may be unfamiliar with the career development process We strive to offer our resources a variety of ways to increase our accessibility to students who often may not know how to start the career development process with classroom presentations, appointments with advisors, drop in with peers in various locations around campus, and events. We also are building out resources like the identity specific career pages, career communities, Handshake, and GoinGlobal for students who prefer to access resources online.
May lack mentors or role models Career Development offers targeted appointments for students on Career Action Planning, How to Connect with Professionals, and more. We also can connect you with different mentor resources on campus.
May not have the opportunity to take on a low-paying internship Internship Funds are a way that we help support students who find themselves in low-paying or unpaid internships in the summer. We have eight different funds and can support you while you are completing a summer internship so you don’t have to choose between gaining meaningful experience and stressing about finances.


Career Tips for First-Generation College Students - A guide for tips and tricks all first-generation college students should take a look at. First-generation college students should engage in networking to build meaningful long term relationships, ask questions and engage with resources, gain experience, and keep up the good work!

National Career Development Career Association on Career Services for First-Generation Students - A post from a first-generation college student - now career advisor at the University of Toledo on Career Services and First-Generation College Students.

First-Generation Students in Higher Education Data - Factsheets detailing demographic information and degree attainment data.

Resource for First-Gen College Students @ WU

First-Generation Book Drive - The First-Generation Book Drive aims to reduce the financial stress that many first-generation students face when purchasing their textbooks by allowing students to request a portion of their books for free.

My College Story - Stories from Willamette Faculty, many of whom are first-generation college students themselves.

Willamette University

Career Development

UC 3rd floor
900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 U.S.A.

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