5 Tips to All Students Transitioning School Levels

Congratulations Class of 2022!

My name is Andrea Saavedra-Nieto, First Year College Advisor at the University of Nevada, Reno. May is Graduation season at my institution, and I LOVE IT. It’s a yearly reminder of why I enjoy working for a first-generation low-income access program like GEAR UP. Today I celebrate five years since my UNR graduation. One of the best days ever lived. I will forever be a first-generation professional. Navigating both the college and career paths alone is extremely difficult. I am the first and only sibling to attend and graduate college. All close family members are blue-collar laborers without a professional career.  My goal is to be the person I needed when I was younger. Here are five tips I would give my younger self. To all 8th graders and high school seniors.

  1. Pursue academic support help early on

If you’re [stuck] on a single concept go to your professor’s/teacher’s office hours. They don’t like sitting in their office alone, and you could also learn a lot while you’re there. If you’re even the slightest bit worried about being behind your peers academically, seek assistance as soon as possible! Most campuses have tutoring and support services, and instructors will help you get up to speed. Seek out group and study partners who seem to care genuinely; they’ll push you to learn more and make the most of your time. My strategy was to seek out immigrants, other first-gen low-income Latina students, and students who are English learners.

  1. Embrace who you are

You are enough and capable of providing a valuable perspective in the college classroom. So, speak up and sit in the front row. Academic discussions are supposed to expose students to new points of view. You’re smart enough to make it this far; don’t let false notions or misconceptions hinder your learning experience.

  1. Be fierce about financial assistance

While there are various scholarship opportunities available each year to students, don’t expect them to just fall into your lap. It might not be the most exciting activity, but dedicating time to your scholarship search can pay off! I recommend starting local — check with your GEAR UP Specialist/FYCA at the school you’ll be attending, places of worship, and civic groups for scholarship opportunities. Then, once you’ve exhausted your nearby options, scour the internet. Many credible scholarship websites can help you in your search. But staying on top of the scholarship search isn’t the only thing you should be doing to maintain financial stability throughout your collegiate journey. It is important to keep meticulous track of any loan debt you accrue while in school. If this isn’t something your family support system can help you with, look into the resources available at your school — many institutions offer financial literacy programs to help instill a sense of economic confidence within their students.

  1. Get engaged! Join a Network!

I would encourage first-gen students to find a way to create a home away from home at college. Join a club! Whether joining a Sorority or fraternity or associating with a student academic organization, you’ll instantly have common ground with other members and earn lifelong friends. If you’re not sure where to start, most colleges will have a list of student organizations and clubs. Find a few that sound interesting and inquire. Most groups would love to have someone excited to get involved, so don’t be shy!

  1. Don’t overload yourself

If you’re planning on working a job while attending school, be cautious and don’t over-commit. Let your employer know your situation; if you work full-time and can afford it, I recommend not working more than 20-25 hours a week. A common mistake is not to consider time outside the classroom. You might have a class that meets twice per week, but the out-of-classroom workload will be similar to more frequent courses. Plan for a heavy load and adjust accordingly. Check your academic calendar to know the last day to drop a class without penalty.


Who do you turn to for support if your family is unfamiliar with navigating college? GEAR UP! We can help! This ties into getting involved and seeking academic help as both provide a great pool of peers and mentors. Many colleges have support services for students who may encounter struggles. That said, don’t rule out the ability of your family to assist you, mom and dad might not be calculus experts, but they do know you well enough to listen if you need to vent. Besides, they probably miss you!

One last piece of advice: Some might hide it better than others, but there will always be a bit of nervousness and doubt when you’re taking a big step in life. Don’t let it get the best of you — find confidence in how hard you’ve worked to reach this point and know that your family is proud of you and your ambition. If you desire it and expect it, it will be yours soon.