Go to school and get good grades — that’s what Jason Tran’s parents emphasized as his path to success.
Tran made it all the way to UCLA, but then he started feeling lost and unsure. Was he taking the right classes for his sociology major? Why did his classmates seem so much more comfortable than he felt at networking events? What should he put on his resume?
As the first member of his family to attend college, he had no one to consult for advice. He thought he could be tough and figure it out. “When I realized I needed help,” Tran says, “I didn’t even know how to ask.”
He turned to his campus career center. A counselor there helped him polish his resume, practice his interview skills and plan out his future. Tran felt relieved: “Had I known that it was OK to ask for help, or if I had some coaching along the way, it would have made life a whole lot easier.”
Now assistant director for undergraduate career services at the USC Marshall School of Business, Tran spreads that message to today’s college students. With help from Ramandeep Randhawa, vice dean for undergraduate programs, and Onma Lwin, director of undergraduate career services at USC Marshall, he recently began efforts to help first-generation business students successfully launch their careers.
USC Trojan Family asked Tran and Randhawa for a few tips to help these students achieve success at USC and after graduation. Here’s what they shared.
Tip 1: Study Hard, But Look Beyond the Classroom, Too
Tran and Randhawa always emphasize that getting a good job in the United States is about more than good grades. Students also should join clubs or other campus activities, find internships and network with people in their field. Those pursuits help them connect with others and build a supportive network that can aid them moving forward.
“It’s easy for first-gen students to get into the mindset that you should primarily focus on studying hard and getting a good GPA,” says Randhawa, a professor of data sciences and operations. “They are working hard and willing to do what it takes, but they may have that tunnel vision. We need to show that there are other important factors, and we are here to help.”
Tip 2: Take Advantage of USC’s Extensive Career Services
I know for me personally, the whole concept of networking was foreign. It’s not just a transaction. It’s a relationship, and you have to spend time to cultivate it.Jason Tran
Tran points first-generation students to USC Marshall’s career services like help with writing a resume and job interview workshops. He also encourages students to log onto Handshake, a platform that connects undergrad business majors with internship and job opportunities. Programs tailored to first-generation college students include career discussions with first-generation alumni and a newsletter covering topics like networking skills.
“I know for me personally, the whole concept of networking was foreign,” Tran says. “It’s not just a transaction. It’s a relationship, and you have to spend time to cultivate it. That might be something newer to first-gen students.”
Tip 3: Strike Up a Conversation
Randhawa has another suggestion for first-generation Trojans: Find a faculty or staff member you like and trust, and talk with them. “Go talk to them outside of class for 10 minutes,” he says. “I’ve heard so many success stories from students who say, ‘I spoke to this professor, and they showed me what was possible.’ Once you have that connection and find there is support here, everything falls into place.”
I’ve heard so many success stories from students who say, ‘I spoke to this professor, and they showed me what was possible.’ Once you have that connection and find there is support here, everything falls into place.Ramandeep Randhawa
Those conversations help first-generation USC students feel more prepared for life after college, Tran says. He recalls a recent conversation with a first-gen student who worried about succeeding at USC. They spent 45 minutes talking about her experiences and USC Marshall’s resources. The first-year student asked Tran about her resume and scheduled follow-up appointments to make sure she stays on track.
“We are here to help,” Tran says. “There’s a stereotype of career services that you need to know what your career path is before you can schedule an appointment. That is a fallacy. It’s never too early to start those conversations and using these resources.”
Tip 4: First-Gen Student Resources Are Out There — Find the One that Fits You
USC offers programs for students across campus who are learning to navigate college and job hunting. Check out the First Generation Plus Success Center, a hub for resources directed toward Trojans who identify as first-generation, transfer, undocumented or former foster youth.
The First-Generation Mentor Program offered through the USC Career Center pairs first-gen alumni with current first-gen students, providing workshops on career development and personal advice on achieving success. The center also offers scholarships for first-gen students who secure unpaid summer internships.
Another valuable resource at USC is the Norman Topping Student Aid Fund, which provides scholarships to first-year, transfer and graduate students with an emphasis on first-generation and local applicants.