To better understand the student experience, navigate across these themes to hear from students who have shared their stories with us.


Strong and positive relationships with advisors, mentors and peers play an important role in enabling academic success. Students who are able to leverage these relationships and seek emotional and academic help fare better than those who do not.

Henry, Undergraduate Student
Henry is a first generation student from Honduras. He came to the U.S. in his early teens along with his family. At first it was hard because he didn't speak English and other students would make fun of him. But his family was very encouraging and he found teachers that helped him. He values his teachers over textbooks. Henry's dad and girlfriend are a major source of encouragement for him. They give him the "push" he needs to stay focused, study hard and finish school.


JC and Sarah depend on each other for support and guidance. Many students reported that a strong support network made the difference between a good learning experience and a bad one. The ability to rely on each other to find answers it is powerfully uplifting. Read more

Someone Who Cares

Virtually all students reported that having a tight connection to faculty and academic advisors was an important ingredient for academic success. Advisors and mentors provide an invaluable resource to students throughout the college experience, from planning and school selection, course selection and guidance navigating a school’s administrative system. Having a faculty member to advise them encouraged better decision making and often resulted in a better outcome. Students also reported that good, accessible teaching staff was central to having a productive and successful educational experience.

Asking for Help

Students were often able to describe the moment in which they learned the value of asking for help. It is clear that this is a skill that served many of the students we spoke with well. They were clear about the value and impact that had on their ability to create successful outcomes for themselves. It was also clear to them where the inability to ask for help held their peers back. Students who had good support networks more readily sought help. Students who did not have strong relationships were less likely to seek help and thus experience more significant set backs in their studies. Many students do not access formal support services because they do not know they exist, the don’t trust the effectiveness of the service or feel beyond help. Students also cited that institutional names such as "student counseling center" were unclear or ‘too serious sounding,’ even when these centers could have provided valuable assistance.

Doris, Undergraduate Student
Doris needed help but didn't know how to ask for it.

Dealing with Conflict

Many students described moments of conflict, such as dealing with bureaucracy, racism and roommates, and their reactions to it. Students will complain to their friends but few will seek formal solutions. Students allow problems to persist until some become a formidable barrier to success. What can be seen as simple bureaucratic issues can prove to be massive barriers for students and may cause them to give up their dreams. When conflict is poorly resolved it leaves a lasting mark on the students expectations.


Jose, Undergraduate Student
Jose shares his experience to drop out of school due to racism and seek a different school where he feels he fits in. These feelings are not uncommon for students with backgrounds such as Jose's. Jose is a first generation student from Puerto Rico, where he grew up in a tough neighborhood and has had to figure out a lot of things on his own. Fortunately Jose had his grandmothers strong guidance for his early years. He hopes to be able to help kids that have had similar struggles getting through the hardships and temptations of his neighborhood.

Fitting In

Many students reported struggling with making connections and creating friendships because of social or age differences, misalignment of interests and feeling generally disconnected with the campus community.

Charlie, Undergraduate Student
Charlie had significant struggles with his freshman roommate. Although he knew about campus services, he chose not to seek their help because he felt they were too serious for his trouble. The names of the services also seemed very imposing. He just wanted to stay in his dorm with his friends; the same friends he turned to when he needed help.

Giving Back

Many students, particularly those with the toughest path, expressed an unsolicited interest in giving back to their peers. They cite the desire to improve the process and outcome for others and their appreciation for the generosity of other students who helped them navigate the system, get the information they needed and encouraged them in their educational efforts. First generation students expressed the strongest desire to serve a role model for other students facing challenges. This attitude is a crucial component for the "informal knowledge network" that students tap into at school. Students teach each other how to navigate the system. Many part time students reported that they had difficulty developing a strong informal network.

“I’m not the best student, but if you need help, I’ll help you,” Henry, First Generation Student

Kim, Undergraduate Student
Kim enjoys being able to help other older students integrate and succeed in school.