It can be daunting for anyone to navigate the college experience, but for first-generation students, there may be even more to anticipate.


Thankfully, Concordia is here to help students from all walks of life. CUW offers a plethora of resources to help students make the adjustment to college life, including a broad array of academic and career services and friendly residence life staff.

But perhaps nothing is more assuring than the model of peers who have been there before. Three of Concordia’s first-gen students offer their advice for those taking the leap into the college realm.

Emily Kulow

Emily Kulow is a Pharmaceutical Sciences major going into her third year at Concordia, with an academic standing as a senior. She plans to proceed to graduate school for four years beginning in the Fall of 2020. She comes from Howards Grove, Wisconsin.

Here she details her experience as a first generation college student, now approaching her advanced degree, and career as a healthcare professional.

“Growing up my parents always kept encouraging me to do my best and be my best. They inspired me because they always told me they wished they would have kept going on to achieve a four year degree which motivated me to want to continue my education after high school.

My dad works in the maintenance department at a factory and my mom is a restaurant manager. They both are hard workers and work long hours. They have both been my greatest supporters as I decided to continue my education at the collegiate level. They encourage me to take advantage of opportunities they didn’t have or missed out on when they were my age.

I come from a small town with my high school graduating class consisting of only 63 kids. I knew no matter where I went, it was going to be a huge change. Concordia made me feel at “home.” I wanted somewhere still close to home so I still had the opportunity to go home if need be. Also, I wanted to go to a place that offered my major, and Concordia had the perfect program for me. The class sizes are small so professors have the opportunity to know their students. I really like the individualized attention.

I didn’t know what to expect being the first child in my family to go to college. I wasn’t sure what to all pack and I was scared I would get lost when I got to campus. I also didn’t know how classes were going to be. I came to CUW and everyone was so friendly and available to help with everything I needed.

My academic advisors helped me out tremendously when I came to Concordia. Don’t be afraid to see them because I was in their office regularly and still am. They are there for you to help you reach your desired future plans. They helped make sure my class load was manageable and that I was on the right track.

Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. Join as many clubs as possible as it is a good way to make friends and to become involved on campus. There is always so much going on around campus. Definitely check it out!”

Lizzy Balsiger

Lizzy Balsiger is a Communication Sciences and Disorders student.  She is also pursuing a minor in women’s studies. She will be graduating in Spring of 2022. She grew up in Southeastern Wisconsin and her family now resides in Cedarburg.

Over this time she has flourished as a student here at CUW, and has gained sage advice for other students that will be the first of their family to attend college.

“I had never really thought about the fact that none of my family members went to a four-year school. As a kid, I always knew I wanted to go to college and continue my education- I always loved school! I spent much of my time in high school volunteering with students with disabilities, and I realized then I wanted to go to school to be a Speech-Language Pathologist.

I live with my mom, and she went to tech school for fashion merchandising. She always worked in retail stores, but she never seemed to enjoy working. Despite this, she never tried to change her career or further her education in something she was interested in. This made me feel strongly about wanting to enter a career that I could not only support myself in, but I wanted to make a career choice that I would love doing. My mom has supported me in my education all along, and has always stressed the importance of working hard and doing what I love.

Due to medical concerns, I needed to choose a school close to my home and doctors. CUW is only 7 miles from my mom, which is very helpful. Our school also has a great CSD program that is small and individualized, and I really feel valued.

Because I am the first in my family to attend a typical four-year institution, I did not have much guidance from my mom or even my extended family on what admissions would be like or tips on college living for my first year. None of my family has ever been in an educational program with the rigor that I experience, so I could not receive academic advice from them, either.

Your academic advisor will be able to help in understanding how your four years will look academically. Your RA will help you adjust to living alone, and upperclassmen in your major can give great advice to succeed! - Lizzy Balsiger

I suggest getting to know your academic advisor, RA, and upperclassmen in your program. Your academic advisor will be able to help in understanding how your four years will look academically, your RA will help you adjust to living alone, and upperclassmen in your major can give great advice to succeed!

The fact that you have not come from a long line of college educated individuals does not mean you are any less intelligent or any less worthy of an education. Being the first one in your family to go to a four- year institution can be scary, but remember that you are just as capable and deserving of this opportunity as every other student around you. Use every resource available to you, and know that it is okay to ‘not know’ at times. College is a time to learn academically, socially, and emotionally. It’s a time to grow for everybody, and you are not alone.”

Richard Herron

Richard Herron, a Milwaukee native, is a junior year accounting student here at CUW. He offers strong advice for first generation students and all those making the bold transition into the college setting.

“College can be brutal at times and other times it can be exciting. As we are immersed in an experience that can notably be uncommon to many students; incoming freshmen, transfer students, minority students, and first generation students.

One of the first things new college students should know is that priorities matter. What you don’t want to do is to be stuck in your undergrad for several years trying to figure out what you want to pursue. Coming from a highly structured environment to complete the freedom of college was challenging for me. Ultimately, I dropped out of college and ended giving up on myself, thinking college was not for me. However, as I matured and learned more I quickly realized college is essentially what you make of it. Like I always say we can either take opportunities or make opportunities. I ended up here at CUW where I followed a path that is tailored towards my personality and beliefs, thus leading me to reach my goals and discover my passions. So, help is here!

I know we’ve all heard this before, but trust me, getting our priorities in order is huge! Not only do we learn how to do this in college, it is a valuable skill that we are able to transfer into real world experience when we graduate. College is a fast pace environment, with many things going on in and outside of the classroom. We have few supports if any to policing our own self-discipline. In the end we should “Work Hard. Play Hard. Pray Hard.” Do this, if nothing else, guaranteed you’ll be successful in anything. Do not be afraid to be a go getter.

Finally, one thing I underestimated when first going to college is getting involved. I pretty much stayed to myself my freshman year. Over the years I’ve learned that getting involved on campus and in the endless opportunities offered is crucial to maintain a balanced, healthy work-social life. Surround yourself with students after the same goals and objectives. True friends’ help you learn, not excited to direct you to the next party. Choose friends carefully. Get out there, express yourself and display your talents, someone, the right person, will notice.”

— Kai Goldenstein is a student writer and junior year Social Work major, minoring in German

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