Event Recap: First-Gen College Panel

Written by Emma Song, Sharon Lee on Saturday, 14 May 2022. Posted in Event Recap

Graphic by Lily Wei for Girls For Business

On April 3rd 2022 Girls For Business Girls For Business hosted the ‘First-Gen College Panel,’ with panelists June Hong, Nicole Lopez, and Gabriela Cuba sharing their advice in college applications and the college transition process as first generation students!

Nicole Lopez is a first generation Latina student and a sophomore at University of Michigan's Ross School of Business studying business administration with a concentration in strategy. She worked as a first-year summer analyst for McKinsey & Co, is currently a Ross Ambassador and student employee at the Michigan Alumni Association, and President at the Association of Latino Professionals of America Chapter in Michigan and a volunteer at Pilar’s Tamales and Foundation.

Gabriela Cuba is a first generation Latina immigrant and studies Economics with a secondary in History of Art and Architecture at Harvard University. She is interested in Finance and Latinx Empowerment, and has experiences as an operations manager at the Miami Health Center, and as a consultant at the Harvard College Consulting Group. She is also the Assistant Director of Operations at the Harvard Latina Empowerment and Development (LEAD) Conference.

June Hong is a senior at University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business with a concentration in Finance and interests in sustainability and social impact. After graduating, she will be working at Guggenheim Partners as an investment banker, with previous work experiences working private equity for Investcorp, as a chief editor for the World Information Transfer, a business analyst at Banking at Michigan, and a Summer Business Development Associate at Olibra. She is part of Delta Sigma Pi Professional Business Fraternity, Banking at Michigan, Net Impact, and PROPEL Business Club.

After a brief introduction, the panelists engaged in a Q&A.

Q: What scholarships or financial aid resources do you recommend?

Nicole says that the most important thing for her was to be proactive in what you want and confident. She recommends researching what state and national scholarships you qualify for, along with scholarships within schools that you may get accepted to. A personal experience of hers was being proactive and finding a minority scholarship at Michigan that was able to fund 25% of her tuition, along with being able to contact different admissions officers and asking for resources.

Gabriela’s experiences happen to lie more in the Ivy school realm, where she talked about the need-based financial aid institutions like her school, Harvard, provide so that she will not have to pay full-price. Her biggest piece of advice is to apply even if you think you can’t afford it, because once you get in then there is always something you can work out with the financial aid office. One thing she did was leverage another school’s financial aid package against the one you wanted to go to so they can match financial aid, which she says is a valuable tactic that you would have to reach out and ask for.

June agrees with Nicole and Gabriela, saying to reach out to both admissions and financial aid so you can leverage the other offers from other schools against the one you want to go to, since there's nothing you lose by doing it. June also highly recommends applying for QuestBridge, which is what she qualified for, but she says to make sure to weigh things out before making a decision. An important piece of advice she gives is to look into all the specifics that are offered in your financial aid package – fee waivers are available, and always read the fine lines and text to get the best deal that you can! 

Q: What are the most important factors that one should consider when applying or deciding between colleges?

According to Nicole there are two things that are really important: finding a school that matches and aligns with your interests along with doing research on the culture and organizations and see if it fits you. She talks about how some people, like her past self, think they just want to go to a school with the best ranking, but she emphasizes the importance of researching schools you can thrive in and enjoy their cultures and programs.

June had a full-ride scholarship to Michigan and had applied because of its strong business school and big state school atmosphere, so it was already somewhere she knew would be a good fit and wanted to go to. However, when she was deciding and considering all her options, it ended up boiling down to whether she wants to "stay in [her] comfort zone, or leave [her] comfort zone" in regards to the new geographic location Michigan brought, which was a change from her home. Also, she says that you can't just look at the rankings as a whole – you need to look at what the schools are good for and what good it does for you in the future. For example, Emory has a great business program but she realized that their business program is good for marketing and not necessarily finance, which is what she was into at the time.

In terms of finding a college that is a good fit, a resource Gabriela found useful was the fly-out programs, where colleges will fly you out for an all-expenses paid weekend to see what the campus life is like and if it is a good fit for you. This way, she says, you can truly see if the school you want to go to is the right fit for you instead of fully relying on online resources.

Q: For a business-oriented student, what college organizations/clubs are available to join on campus?

Nicole strongly encourages making the most of your college experience – especially during your freshman year. Her first year was over Zoom, and due to the virtual atmosphere she was nervous about the awkward atmosphere virtual meet-ups bring. However, she ended up applying to 12 different clubs and had a great experience, becoming involved in 3-4 and meeting a lot of different people and getting introduced to so many opportunities.

Gabriela mentions how important it is to put yourself out there, even if it’s scary. She remembered that when she was applying to Harvard’s Consulting Group, she had absolutely no knowledge about consulting – once she got an email from the mailing list, she even had to research what a consultant does. But in the end, she says that it all boils down to your attitude to be part of the club along with the aptitude to learn. She also recommends reaching out to people already in the club through social media and asking for advice, and just breaking that ice brings resources and friendly advice to use for your advantage.

June agrees with everything previously said, saying that if you go to a college with a business school there are probably going to be a lot of different clubs you can join that are respective to your own career fields. June herself is in a banking club, but she says there are also investing clubs, consulting clubs that work on projects with small sustainable business, impact-based consulting as well as other types of consulting too. She also joined a business frat because she was looking for a community on campus, and found that it has given her a good opportunity to meet people and learn more about different areas of business just by meeting a lot of people that are working in different fields. She says you don't have to shoot for experiences that are purely professional-looking for your resume, rather you can do something because you like it. 

Final Words of Advice

June starts with saying that to be a woman in business is a lot harder than being a man in business, especially since the workplace is not as friendly towards women. However, June says that times are changing and the industry is becoming more diverse, but emphasizes that you don’t have to push away your femininity in any sense to feel like you made it in the business world. You don't have to be more like a guy, or dress more like a guy, or talk like a guy, and you can still keep everything you love about being a woman while you're entering a career in business.

Jumping on what June said, Gabriela expresses that being a woman in business has its challenges men will never have to face, so while it is not fair it’s the world we have to live in and navigate, and to never underestimate the power of femininity. For more general advice, she says go to conferences, apply to scholarships, schools – put yourself out there even if you don’t think you meet all the qualifications. She never thought that she would ever be able to go to Harvard, but someone saw something in her that gave her the opportunities she is presented with today, and that’s why it’s so important to go out and do everything you can for yourself.

Nicole remembers being so overwhelmed with the college process and it took a mental toll on her. A piece of advice to ease all the stress of college applications is that you shouldn’t nitpick on your weaknesses – rather, focus on your strengths. You should believe that you are capable and not to lose hope in yourself for not being perfect, and so put your best foot forward; rejection is just redirection and don’t lose the positivity. Keeping your arms wide open despite the door that seems to close in front of you will only keep you ready for the opportunities that may come to you, so she says put yourself out there, focus on your strengths, and it will bring the best experiences for you.

Thank you to our three panelists for giving us such valuable advice about college admissions as first generation students. The full Youtube video of this event is out, and we hope you come to the next Girls For Business Event!

About the Author

Emma Song

Emma Song

Emma is a Business Features Writer at Girls For Business.

Sharon Lee

Sharon Lee

Sharon is a Business Education Writer at Girls For Business.

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