Make Them Proud to Be First

Advisers should follow these tips for helping first-generation students with the college exploration and application process:

  • Encourage college attendance aspirations as early as possible—as young as fifth grade.
  • Include families in events or classes that share college information.
  • Save and post fundamental information so it is easily accessible.
  • Utilize local resources such as alumni or school staff.
  • Provide support and don’t make negative assumptions about ability or engagement.

Show, Don’t Tell

Experts Ashley Pallie (Pomona College, Claremont, CA) and Calvin Wise (Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD) shared the following advice for advisers who are asked to write letters of recommendation:

  • Be specific and provide examples.
  • Stay away from common generalizations.
  • Stick to one page.
  • Avoid form letters.
  • Highlight a student’s grit and resilience.
  • Be aware of school group readings.

Inspire a
College-Going Culture


Patrick Wu, educational adviser at the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, offered some great advice for inspiring a college-going culture at the middle level. Consider the following:

  • Have a college T-shirt day where both staff and students are encouraged to participate.
  • Decorate hallways with college pennants or name homerooms after the teachers’ alma maters.
  • Invite alumni or local college representatives as guest speakers to your school.
  • Educate students on college-specific jargon such as the difference between grants and loans.
  • Have students interview college grads and report back to the class about what they learned.

Eliminate Microaggressions

Student Kimberly Marfo shared her journey toward creating an inclusive school community. She gave the following tips for others to follow in her footsteps and create their own “That’s Not What I Meant” campaign to combat microaggressions or similar issues at their school:

  • Make a plan by identifying the problem you wish to solve and possible solutions.
  • Find a sponsor or several sponsors.
  • Start a conversation and share ideas.
  • Organize events and spread your message.
  • Branch out to local organizations and community members.
  • Have fun!