college going students

208: Resources for First-Generation Students

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Did you know that every year 500,000 academically qualified, lower-income students who should go on to college… don’t? That’s the problem an organization called Strive for College is working to solve. On this episode, which is part 3 of 3 in my series on access and equity, I sit down with their Chief Strategy Officer, Matt Rubinoff, who for years has been advocating for first-generation and low-income students and we discuss, among other things:

  • What’s so special about being first anyway?

  • Why first-gen students should take a “What’s in it for me?” approach

  • Resources for first-gen students and their counselors, including (one of my all-time favorites) the “I’m First! Guide to College,” which highlights resources and opportunities available to first-gen students at hundreds of colleges and universities

  • Questions first-gen students should ask when researching colleges

  • The importance of not just getting to college, but getting through it

  • How first-gen and low-income students can receive not only free mentoring but also free test prep!


[1:40] Who is Matt Rubinoff?
[3:16] What the problem is Strive for College trying to solve?
[5:21] What’s so special about being first anyway?
[6:44] Why should first-gen students take a “What’s in it for me?” approach?
[8:16] The (amazing) “I’m First Guide to College”
[12:13] Resources for First-Gen Students
[13:33] How to get free mentoring (if you’re a first-gen student)
[15:28] How to become a mentor (if you’re a counselor)
[17:00] Questions first-gen students should ask when researching colleges
[19:57] What does Matt want first gen student to know?

Relevant LINKS:

207: 17 Things to Do Before Going to College

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Download a PDF of The Roommate Contract


Harlan Cohen is a New York Times bestselling author, nationally syndicated advice columnist, and speaker who has visited over 500 high school and college campuses.  He is the author of six books including, The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into In College, The Naked Roommate: For Parents Only, and Dad’s Expecting Too!  

Harlan is a frequent guest on television and radio programs.  He is the founder of Best First Year, an online college readiness and success program for high school and college students. You can find him on social media @HarlanCohen and on Facebook at and you can watch his TEDx talk at

On this podcast Harlan offers so much great advice from:

  • A simple exercise to help set you up for a great freshman year

  • How to find your people on campus

  • Whether or not you should break up with your high school sweetheart (what Harlan says might surprise you)

  • Three great questions to put on your contract with your roommate

  • On-campus resources that he (and I!) wish we’d known more about when we were in college

  • Harlan’s “three-box” strategy for packing


[0:35] Who is Harlan Cohen?
[2:08] How does Harlan get the inside scoop on college-going folks?
[4:16] Tip #1 Identify what you want
[5:57] Tip #2 Tell the story of your first year (as if it’s already happened)
[9:19] Tip #3 Pick 3 clubs or organizations that speak to you
[11:04] Tip #4 Find your 5 friends in your corner
[14:06] Tip #5 Don’t break up with your high school sweetheart!
[15:47] Tip #6 Break up with your high school sweetheart!
[17:45] Tip #7 Take advantage of welcome week
[20:58] Tip #8 Read the campus newspaper
[22:22] Tip #9 Am I the roommate from Hell?
[26:25] Tip #10 Don’t be mean to those we’ll miss the most
[28:14] Tip #11 Check out the school’s free services
[30:47] Tip #12 Look for more money!
[34:45] Tip #13 Make rules for going out
[38:57] Tip #14 Get a box of medicine
[40:06] Tip #15 Have a scary *honest* conversation with your parents
[42:50] Tip #16 The three box strategy
[43:53] Tip #17 Plan to be an imperfectionist
[45:40] The Universal Rejection Truth
[46:50] The Best First Year