Finding Your Place at UC Berkeley : First-Generation Students

Three first-generation students share their UC Berkeley stories.

Juan P., Senior, Transfer, First-Gen Student

San Bernardino, California

Joining Rising Immigrant Scholars through Education allowed me to find empowerment through my undocumented status, and to advocate for myself and my peers in ways that no other space would ever encourage me to. I found life long friends in RISE, but also built a political force within the folks I now call family.

If I could give one piece of advice to newly admitted students, it’s to find your community around your passion, just as I did with Rising Immigrant Scholars. Always be bold, both inside the classroom and outside of it. Never silence your voice because you feel like you’re not good enough, because transfer and first-generation students come with unique experience that add to the intellectual discourse of the class. Being a queer undocumented student who was able to come out of the closet and out of the shadows after a semester at UC Berkeley says a lot about the place that I come from and the strength I was able to find within the various communities I co-exist in at Cal.

For transfer students who are applying to college, I would advise you to appreciate what your community college has to offer. You don’t realize until you leave how unique of an experience community college is. The four-year university is a vastly different world, and folks teaching don’t often come from our communities.

Come in with an open mind, but with a conviction for your passions. This place will test you emotionally, mentally, as well as academically, and finding a community with your passions will help you survive more than anything else.


Kwamena H., Senior, First-Gen Student

Oakland, California

I’m majoring in Social Welfare, and I do identify with first-generation students.

The most transformative experience I’ve had so far at UC Berkeley has been the work I have being able to do as an RA (Resident Assistant) in the residence halls, as an adviser with the Undergraduate Admissions Office, and as an outreach member for the Black Recruitment and Retention Center. And I can’t forget serving as a peer academic counselor with Incentive Awards Program (IAP) and the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) during Summer Bridge! All of these experience aligned in a way of supporting students and helping them navigate their path and journey through higher education.

It is humbling to impact the life of so many students of low-income backgrounds by using my story and journey as a Cal student to motivate and spark the desire to attain higher education within them. I am honored for such an opportunity. I would advise anyone who comes to Berkeley to make use of attending the Welcome Week events to meet people and learn more of programs the campus has to offer.

Berkeley has so many opportunities. I mentioned some of the ways I chose to be involved through activities. On the academics side, my best class here so far was with Professor Sarah Boggs, in the College Writing Program. Our class was centered on Hurricane Katrina and the firsthand account of stories from victims. I loved the class because I had always heard about Katrina; this class exposed me to the politics, racism, and exploitation of American citizens.

My experience here at Cal has being challenging, but the African American Theme Program /Black community helped me a lot to be able to adjust to the Berkeley system and to have a support system of people who look like me and who share my struggle be by me. We all encouraged each other to fight on and stay determined for success.


Anna L., Junior, First-Gen Student

Oakland, California

I’m from Oakland, California, which is about twenty minutes drive from the campus. Before coming to college, I have been supporting my family in a lot of things: paying bills, translating things, etc. And Berkeley just seemed like the best place for me to continue supporting my family and pursue my degree in higher education at the same time.

It can be hard finding support as a first-generation college student. I never grew up asking for help — I didn’t ask for help from my parents a lot because they didn’t even go to college. Then I realized I’m not the only first-gen student on campus. There’s a lot of love and support here. I would suggest that, when you get to college, find your community (harder said than done) but come find us, because we’ll be able to support one another!

Why come to Berkeley? Berkeley has been able to transform and challenge the way I think, act, and learn. It is also filled with amazing individuals who are there to support you through this journey.

The most transformative experience I’ve had at Berkeley has been working with the Incentive Awards Program (IAP) and the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) as a peer academic counselor and EOP STEM coordinator. The experience was transformative not only because of the work but also because of the professional/student staff, students of the program, and different educators who provided a welcoming, loving, and supportive space for first-generation, low-income and/or historically underrepresented students. EOP also provided space for me to create EOP STEM Mentorship with two other students to foster guidance and provide leadership opportunities that will enhance historically underrepresented students experience in the sciences.