First-generation student Abigail “Abby” Vanderwolf arrived at Georgia State last fall as a freshman in the Robinson College of Business. While she hasn’t declared a major just yet, she’s been working hard completing business prerequisite courses.

During her college search, Abby realized it was important to her to stay close to her mother, who lives in Covington, Ga. That meant ruling out any out-of-state schools. Abby considered both Georgia State and the University of Georgia as a result. Visiting both campuses with her mom helped her decide Georgia State was the best fit.

“[My mom] helped me consider the pros and cons of everything,” Abby remembers.


Georgia State also offered Abby a better financial package. Like many other students, the costs of attending school played a significant part in her decision. Abby also has the HOPE Scholarship, which pays for a portion of her tuition.

It Takes A Village

In addition to the support she drew from her mother, Abby received help navigating the transition from high school to college from her older sister, who attends Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, Ga. Her sister helped Abby with her college applications.

“I was really glad she was there because she’s already been through it,” Abby says. “My friends were helpful, too… and my parents. They read my essays and things like that.”

Even though first-generation students may sometimes feel alone when navigating the college admissions process, many strive to be resourceful in bridging their gaps in information by finding creative solutions, reaching out to others, and adopting a proactive approach. In addition to reaching out to a few teachers at her school high to help her navigate the college process, Abby also used the tools readily available to her, including the Internet.

“I communicated a lot with an English teacher I had,” she says. “And I also just looked things up online and searched for answers to my questions that way.”

Both of her parents strived to make Abby feel confident in her choices, including her choice to attend college.

“My parents, of course, always told me how important school is but they never pushed the idea that university was the only way… My parents never pressured me, they never made it overbearing for me… For me, I know [college] is the best path to ensure I am successful,” she reflects.

Making the Leap

Abby took several Advanced Placement classes in high school, which exposed her to the rigor of college coursework.

“It wasn’t too much of a shock [when I came to Georgia State] because I was pretty prepared,” she says.

Abby also learned to reach out to her professors early on, which has helped. She believes her professors are one of the biggest resources available to her.

“I didn’t do well on a quiz last semester, but I talked with the professor and he helped me,” she remembers. “Going to my professors when I needed it has been the biggest help.”

Last summer, Abby participated in the Emerging Leaders orientation and leadership program. They went on a retreat to Tennessee to go white-water rafting and participated in seminars designed to familiarize them with skills they’ll need when they begin their careers—covering topics such as preparing a résumé and what to wear to interviews.

“I met a lot of people who were already students here and they helped me understand what to expect and what to do in class,” she says. “Through these connections, I got a job at the Welcome Center and it’s going really well. I’m currently training for the new student orientation job as an Inceptor. So really, all of these things and the people I’ve met through these programs, even the administrators themselves, have really helped me.”

Trusting Yourself to Know What’s Right for You

Abby advises other first-generation students to make connections and learn to trust themselves.

“Don’t be afraid of getting involved… And don’t be afraid of feeling pressure from being first-generation.”

Abby is still thinking about the possibilities available to her after graduation, and she hopes they’ll include travel.

“Hopefully, whatever job I’ll have after graduation will allow me to travel. I really do love it,” she says. “When I was in high school, I got a scholarship to go to Finland where I stayed with a host family. I really want to do something like that again.”