Being a first-generation student at a post-secondary school can be as overwhelming as it is exciting. In addition to the pressure of changing their family landscape, first-generation students often lack the support and encouragement that traditional students have. According to The Atlantic, youth who are the first in their families to go to school are much more likely than their peers to drop out before graduation1. Many first-generation students are also balancing families and work obligations along with their studies, making support from their school vital.

Set these students up for success by implementing a soft start program at your career school. These classes can be administered in the summer or anytime prior to starting the first for-credit class. They are designed to help students - especially first-generation students - make a successful transition into life at a post-secondary institution. They teach the soft skills that are integral to a positive experience, such as time management, study skills, and the importance of forming friendships and supportive relationships with peers and instructors. Learn how a soft start program can benefit first-generation students at your career school:

Develop Skills That Increase Confidence

Hard skills such as mathematics, reading and writing are essential for mastering a rigorous curriculum. Equally as important are soft skills that help students solve problems, be resourceful, make good use of their time, and be part of a team. Acquiring these skills increases their self-confidence, which in turn helps them believe in themselves. Students are more likely to make friends, voice their opinion, and participate in activities if they feel confident in your school before the term begins.

Identify What the Future Has in Store

A soft start program can help students gauge whether a certain career path will be a good fit for them. When students have a better idea of how their education is directly tied to their career aspirations, they are more likely to remain motivated and complete their certificate or degree.

There are several ways to accomplish this as part of a soft start program. First of all, students should meet with a career counselor to talk about their career aspirations and get a better understanding of what a career is like in their field of interest. It is also extremely helpful to match the new student to a mentor in their field of study, ideally an alumni. This mentor can give student firsthand knowledge of what it takes to not only complete their program's coursework, but what their prospective career field actually entails. Establishing career guidance early on helps students select the career school program that best fits their goals, ultimately increasing motivation and reducing attrition rates.

Reduce Fear of the Unknown

When soft start programs are held on campus, students are able to get a real feel for the campus and its surroundings. Many first-generation students come in questioning themselves and their post-secondary school readiness. An on-campus soft start program enables students to familiarize themselves with a school's career center, counseling center, classroom amenities, campus facilities and even faculty and staff, making the transition into career school less intimidating.

Provide a Like-Minded Support Group

According to Knowledge Without Borders, first-generation students are less likely to be engaged in extracurricular activities, become friends with their peers or seek support from instructors2. Students who participate in a soft start program have the opportunity to form a support group of like-minded students. Because students are going through similar struggles and scenarios, participants develop relationships with one another, improving students' social safety net.

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Sources: (1) The Atlantic (2) Knowledge Without Borders