First-generation and Honors College student Teara Mayfield will graduate in May as a marketing major.

“I’ve changed my major about six times,” she says. “I’ve been a chemistry major, a math major… I was always told the money is in the sciences.”

Changing majors is very common among undergraduate students and shouldn’t dissuade anyone from pursing their passions—a lesson Teara takes to heart.

Teara applied to colleges early through an Educational Talent Search (ETS) program through her high school—Cedar Shoals High—in Athens, Ga. This program, overseen by the University of Georgia, identifies and assists students from disadvantaged backgrounds who have the potential to succeed in higher education. She applied to 10 schools—many of which were SEC schools, known for their big football programs, because of her experience living in Athens.

She was accepted into nine of them. Georgia State wasn’t her first choice.

When she was deferred to the regular admission cycle at UGA—she had applied as an early action applicant—she decided she would give Georgia State another look. She toured the campus and applied for financial aid through the FAFSA.

“At that point, I was just trying to weigh the financial aid packages,” she says.

In addition to a financial aid package, Teara also received the 1913 Founders Scholarship through the Honors College, which was renewable for four years.

Moving Past Preconceptions About College and Diving Into Extra-Curriculars

She had a few preconceptions about college, but nothing she couldn’t handle.

“I had older cousins who went to college… and I thought college was going to be like the TV experience—that you would live in the dorms, study with your friends, get good grades, and then graduate,” she remembers. “But I think college was a lot different for me because I came in as an Honors student. Even though I was first-gen, it was easier to transition because I was around so many people who challenged me. I lived on the Honors floor [in my dormitory] for the first two years.”

“It was really the extra-curricular things that kept me engaged and pushed me to keep going,” she adds. “I joined SGA my freshman year and was on the homecoming court one year.”

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She serves as an ambassador for the Honors College as well as for the President’s 1913 Society, and served as a peer mentor for housing. She’s also the vice president of the Student Government Association (SGA) this year.

Reflecting on her experiences finding balance between studying and extra-curricular activities, she says, “Candidly, I think I’m just a lucky student because I don’t study that often. I’m really trying to get better at that because my classes are a little more difficult this year. I’m just not good at sitting down and studying. I’m an auditory learner. If I’m there in class, then I’m pretty good.”

Finding What Works and Thriving In Leadership Roles

But she does make the most of her time and has figured out what works for her. For example, she likes to do her homework in the SGA office during down moments.

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“I spend a lot of time in my extra-curricular spaces. I do homework as it fits in and try to socialize as those opportunities pop up,” she explains.

“My favorite activity has been serving as vice president for SGA,” she says. “This has helped me hone my public speaking and organizational skills. In my role, I’m responsible for 40 other people… this has given me a sense of management experience that I’ll be able to apply in the future. Taking one of the highest executive roles in the SGA and being an African American woman whose parents have not attended college, has been really fulfilling for me.”

Looking Forward

Teara interned last summer at Proctor and Gamble in Seattle, Wa. She has accepted a position as an account manager in sales with the company and will move in June to Cincinnati, OH.

“My parents are super excited that I’m moving out and will have a career,” she says. “They’re excited; they thought I would have to live with them for a few months while I got my stuff together.”

She connected to Proctor and Gamble through University Career Services. She found an alumna that currently works at the company and this contact sent her an application for the internship.

What Other First-Gens Need to Know

When asked what advice she would give to prospective first-generation students, Teara doesn’t mince words.

“You should go to college. It’s not really an option not to. You’re not any less capable of going than anyone else,” she stresses.

She also advises students to build a community once their arrive on campus.

“Get involved once you’re here. You’ll want to talk to people who can understand what you’re going through,” she says.

Lastly, she emphasizes the importance of paying it forward.

“Use your platform as a first-generation student to help others when the time comes,” she says. “I’ve met so many prospective and current first-generation students through my roles as an ambassador and I’ve exchanged contact information with them and stayed in touch with them to make sure their college journey is a little bit smoother.”