Juyeon Schulman

Asian female standing atop a skyscraper in New York City with Central Park in the background.

What was it like being the first in your family to attend/graduate from college?

The main advantage lies in the pride of being the first one in your family to “make it”. This responsibility and pride give me a boost and motivated me to do better and work harder. I wanted to prove the world how good I was despite my humble origins.

What were some of the challenges you faced as a first-generation student and how did you overcome them?

At first, the absence of role models (no directions and connections) contributed to a lack of motivation to do well academically and contributed to a lack of confidence in my own capabilities. I tried to get involved and find a sense of belonging on campus. I started with what I was good at and what I cared about, then use the resources to connect my interests and talents. Mentors, friends, or family who believe in me also helped. These supports gave me more confidence and prevent from developing anxiety and losing motivation.

What are some of the unique strengths you have developed as a first generation student and how are those skills still applicable today? 

Oftentimes being a first-gen student is cast in a negative light, as if we are missing something because we are the first to go to college. Instead, I think that first-gen students have so much to offer, from our resourcefulness and tenacity coming from having to do so much on our own to the fresh and different ways that we look at societal issues. The lack of resources would foster creativity and resourcefulness. It is the attitude and mindset you carry throughout challenges are important. First-gen students have self control, enthusiasm, curiosity, and gratitude. The skills employers most want in their new employees don’t come from a specific major but from the whole educational experience.

How did your experience as a first-generation college student impact your major choice and/or major exploration? 

My family had no idea what I was doing in college, thus I had no problems of following family legacy or parents’ footsteps. I explored several majors and became very interested in business administration and starting an own business. I completed my bachelor’s degree (dual major) in English literature and small and medium enterprise entrepreneurship.

How did your experiences as a first-generation college student shape your career choices? 

Unlike traditional students who received “life advice” and encouragement from family members and a network that helped them to stay on track and gain inside information regarding their career choices, I had to research careers and jobs on my own. It allowed me to try out different careers and attain a greater ability to overcome setbacks of all kinds.

What advice would you give to first-generation students?

My advice to other first-gen students is to “be bold”, even though you feel like you’re making mistakes, you’re the first one to do it, so don’t focus too much on the mistakes. Be more forgiving of yourself. It is ok to struggle at first. Eventually, you would figure out life bit by bit and that it’s OK to explore slowly and to sometimes feel behind. Sometimes you must be bold, go with your gut in terms of the decisions that you have made and go forward for yourself.