First in the Family

Advice About College from First-Generation Students—Your High School Years

by Kathleen Cushman

December 2005 ♦ Paperback ♦ 88 pages ♦ ISBN: 0-9762706-3-3 ♦ $8.95


For single copies, click on the "Buy Now" button below the book cover.

For 10 or more copies, CLICK HERE for bulk discounts.

"I didn't have a big sister or brother or even a cousin to go to and say, 'What did you do in order to get in?' So I read other people's accounts in books. Things don't always fall in your lap, you know what I'm saying? Like, everybody's not searching you out. You have to take the initiative." — Niema Jordan, Oakland Tech High School '04, Northwestern University '08

How do students put college within their reach, if their families have not gone before them? How do they defy stereotypes and low expectations about their future? How do they advocate for themselves academically, find the information they need, keep their emotional and social balance?

For the past year, WKCD has interviewed first-generation students enrolled at colleges across the country, collecting their answers to these and other questions. In a new book, First in the Family: Advice About College from First-Generation Students, we offer their challenges and insights, to help students following in their footsteps—and the teachers, counselors, and other adults whose support means so much.

These students share a fierce determination. "Education was going to be my ticket out of here," says Eric Polk, now an undergraduate at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. "The first train that comes to Nashville, I'm getting on it. I won't be defined by a statistic, like 'how people who grow up in this area are more likely to turn out.' Not me! I won't!" For Aileen Rosario, a student at Passaic Community College, her family identity became "the one that goes to college, the one that's trying to do something for her life."

They follow diverse dreams. Aileen hopes to be a criminal justice lawyer and Niema a journalist. Naixing Lei, who attends college in San Francisco, wants to combine his interests in Asian-American studies and business. Native-American Karen Powless sees social work as her calling.

The undergraduates whose stories fill First in the Family include:

At community colleges:

  • Hazel Janssen, a white student from Denver, completing high school while enrolled at Denver Community College
  • Jackie Comminello, a Mexican-American student at Denver Community College
  • Aileen Rosario, a Dominican-American student at Passaic County (NJ) Community College
    First in the Family
    Your High School Years


    How to read this booklet

    Chapter 1. You Are College Material
    Believe in your right to college

    Chapter 2. We Can Do Better
    First-generation students talk about why they want a higher education

    Chapter 3. Making Your Map
    How to find information and aim for college

    Chapter 4. Support Networks
    How friends, parents, teachers and others can help

    Chapter 5. Stand Up For Your Education
    How to defy stereotypes and low expectations

    Chapter 6. Stay True to You
    How to keep your social and emotional balance

    Chapter 7. Taking Care of Business
    How to keep it all organized and on time

    You're on your way

    Useful Resources

    A Planning Checklist

    The Student Contributors

  • Naixing Lei, a Chinese immigrant student at City College of San Francisco

At state or mid-level colleges and universities:

  • Mike Morris, an African-American from Mississippi on a football scholarship at Brigham Young University in Utah
  • Josh Cryer, an African-American from Indiana, at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, in Indiana
  • John Berry, a white rural student attending college after six years in the work force, at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne
  • Karen Powless, a Native-American student who attends Oklahoma State University in Oklahoma City, where she is a leader in the Native-American Students Association
  • Stephanie Serda, a third-generation Mexican-American attending Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

At highly selective colleges and universities:

  • Eric Polk, an African-American student from East Nashville (TN) attending Wake Forest University in North Carolina
  • Niema Jordan, an African-American student from Oakland (CA) attending Northwestern University in Chicago
  • Stephen Torres, a Mexican-American student attending the University of Texas in Austin
  • Rosa Fernandez, a Dominican immigrant student attending Wellesley College in Massachusett




“First in the Family is PERFECT for our student population! I couldn’t imagine anything more useful or inspiring or informative.”
–   Lynne Marie Bruce,
Golden Gate HS

“This book is a bible for college preparatory services! There is really nothing else like this out there--there are tons of reports, but nothing else with faces, names, and the emotional resonance of First in the Family.”
– Emily Steinberg,
Admission Control


Flip through book

Download grade-by-grade
college planning checklist

Order printed books at quantity

Browse our "First in the Family"
college access website