How achieve your careers goals as a first-generation student

Hand setting paper plane to fly off into the sun

Written by Grace Brady, a first-generation student studying a BSc Zoology

For many, being the first to attend university in their family can be a daunting experience. First-generation students may lack guidance from their family regarding the university application process, financial support or advice in preparation for the overall university experience as they have not experienced it themselves. Therefore, it is assuring to see this support provided by the university. For instance, I recently attended a webinar organised by the Careers Centre that explored how first-generation students can make the most out of their university experience, as well as to both discover and achieve their career goals.

An interesting statistic that I learned from the webinar is that based on the most recent data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, 25-30% of those who attend university are first-generation students. In comparison to 2009, in 2016 the number of first-generation students who attended university rose by 42%. Although I am now a first-generation student in my final year, knowing that many others attending university are also first-generation students would have definitely helped to reassure me on any disadvantages I may have felt when first attending the University of Reading.

UpReach 2021 have stated that ‘a university student with a first-class degree from a top university with a disadvantaged background is less likely to secure an elite job than a privileged student with a second class degree’; this statement highlights such concerns that first-generation students may have when attending university. In addition,  evidence shows we are most likely to follow in the careers footsteps of those around you – including family, friends, neighbours etc. First-generation students may face uncertainty on which course to enrol on at university, however, 70% of graduate jobs are open to any discipline and simply desire transferable skills.

During the webinar run by the Carers Centre, they provided several tips and opportunities for gaining experience, improving your CV and building transferable skills here at the University of Reading to ensure that you stand out above other graduates. Such examples included:

  • Reading Internship Scheme: a paid work internship experience that can build both your confidence and transferable skills
  • Placement work: will help you to grow your professional network. The University Placement Team are available to support students throughout their placement journey
  • Campus Jobs: are a great way to earn money alongside your studies at university whilst developing transferable skills
  • LinkedIn Learning: an online educational platform that is available to current University of Reading students that provides professional video tutorials to help students improve IT skills, strengthen employability and demonstrate skills to employers
  • Forage: offers free virtual work experience programmes that run alongside leading employers to learn and expand your career skillset
  • Career Smart: a free online course that supports graduating students applying for jobs
  • Reading Experience and Development (RED) Award: is the official University of Reading Employability Skills Certificate that will boost your CV and help you to stand out in a competitive job market

messy path hitting a target and coming out straight

The webinar also informed student of several other useful tips to build your contacts whilst at university, including:

  • THRIVE mentoring: provides penultimate year students with the opportunity to connect with a professional mentor, who can guide you with your career goals
  • Student societies: a great way to network here at the university
  • LinkedIn: another way to grow your contacts, as well as providing the opportunity to reach out to University of Reading alumni who may be willing to offer you career guidance
  • Attending University of Reading career fairs and events provides students with an excellent opportunity to network with top employers and leading organisations

As exampled above, the Careers Centre are able to provide plenty of support and advice on how to build transferable skills, grow your CV and help achieve your career ambitions as a first-generation student. One-on-one career appointments are available with a professional Careers Consultant to discuss any career-related questions or concerns you may have. Careers appointments can be booked through MyJobsOnline, or by contacting the Careers Centre by phone or email. Additionally, there is also a range of other support services available at university to guide you throughout your degree – from study advice to financial support.

Hearing about the vast amount of opportunities and support available from the university is enough to reassure any first-generation student that they are unlikely to be at a disadvantage due to their personal situation. I would highly encourage students to reach out to support services such as the Careers Centre to make the most out of their time at university and to gain any assistance needed to achieve their career goals.