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Mentorship Programs Can Help First-Generation College Students Stay on Track

The pandemic has made resources even harder to access for first-gen students who are already at a disadvantage. Apple's new Launch program can help alleviate some of that.
January 10, 2021
6 mins read

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, many college students have experienced unprecedented emotional, mental and financial hardships. For first-generation college students, the reality is even harsher. With limited access to in-person resources, college kids who lack a knowledgeable guardian at home are struggling to keep up with application deadlines, find monetary assistance and navigate the world of online learning.

Thanks to a new program from Apple, Launch@Apple, first-generation college students in majors relating to business or data analytics can receive one-on-one mentorship to help them make connections in their field. Hopefully, Apple’s mentorship program will inspire other companies to help first-generation college students find the resources they need to be successful amid a pandemic.

While the pandemic has been difficult for everyone, this is not the first time that first-generation college students will have to play catch up with their peers. Prior to the coronavirus restrictions, first-generation students already struggled with locating scholarship resources, getting advice about their major and understanding the application process for certain programs.

While a simple Google search can connect students with general resources, there are tips and tricks that can only be acquired through mentorship from others. Students who are fortunate enough to have a parent with a college degree are taught the importance of deadlines, test scores and paperwork, while first-generation students are not.

More than that, students who are the first to attend college in their family are more likely to be from an underprivileged demographic. According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, “First generation college students are from the most disadvantaged groups in America: they are more likely to be female, older, black or Hispanic, have dependent children, and come from low-income communities.”

These factors coupled with the current pandemic mean first-gen college students are dealing with more confusion and financial hardships than ever before. With colleges closing in early March, in-person resources for first-gen students have been extremely limited.

For students who are unfamiliar with the ins and outs of attending a university, school shutdowns have been detrimental. There is less access to public utilities like libraries, printers, fax machines, mess halls and career centers. Students looking to expand their resume through extracurriculars had to put joining clubs and honor societies on hold. And then there’s the near-impossible task of securing a Zoom meeting with an academic advisor. These issues and more have inevitably set back millions of first-gen college students trying to make their families proud.

With 56% of the college student population being first-generation, this means more than half of the students attending college are facing adversities that the other half isn’t. While colleges have previously focused on helping first-gen students in terms of acceptance rates and financial aid, there is still more work to be done.

To close the widening gaps between first-generation and continuing-generation students, colleges must budget more monetary relief, provide more guidance for students and make resources more easily accessible. Mentorship programs, like Launch@Apple, are a crucial first step in the right direction.

According to data collected from various studies, mentorship programs are proven to help first-generation students graduate on time, earn their degrees and locate jobs in the workforce. It is imperative that large corporations like Apple, in addition to universities themselves, encourage these programs and offer jobs directly to the mentees they worked with.

In the beginning of 2021, Apple’s Launch program opened the application process for first-generation college students looking to receive guidance from mentors in their field. Those welcome to apply include first-gen college freshmen or sophomores studying a major related to business, mathematics, analytics or commerce.

The chosen mentees could also be given the chance to participate in job shadowing or paid internships. Thanks to this program, selected students will be given the opportunity of a lifetime and can begin to overcome the obstacles presented by the coronavirus pandemic. While Apple is the first major company to take the initiative of starting a mentorship program like this, it is not the only resource first-gen students can use.

If you’re looking for a quick answer about what to expect as a first-generation student, there are timelines that can be followed and websites from reputable sources that can keep you on track. You should also consider reaching out to an advisor at your school to be directed to university-specific resources. If it’s hard to get in contact with someone, try Googling, “[your university] + first generation student resources,” and explore your options from there. If you qualify to apply for the Launch@Apple program, give it a shot and submit your application.

As a first-generation college student myself, learning about these new programs gives me hope for others going through the same thing. I remember how puzzling it was to figure out deadlines, apply for FAFSA and secure housing on campus. Through a process of trial and error, I learned the intricacies of being in college that I wish I knew beforehand. With the help of these mentorship programs, first-gen students will hopefully have an easier time adjusting to university life.

Apple’s new program is a momentous step toward helping first-generation college students thrive along with their peers. Though living on your own and attending higher education without a knowledgeable parent to guide you can be worrisome, locating resources on your own is easier than you think. Despite the current pandemic challenging Americans in every aspect of life, I have faith that with a bit of research, self-confidence and a well-informed mentor, first-generation college students can be as successful as anyone else.

Danielle Kuzel, Florida State University

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Danielle Kuzel

Florida State University

Psychology major at Florida State University who loves writing, thrift shopping, family and her cat. Hoping to make a difference through writing, advocating and standing up for issues that are important.

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