What Going to College Meant to Me as a First-Gen Student


By Kevin Xiong

College Readiness Coordinator


For many first-generation college students, their stories are often intertwined with their family’s stories. Students often live the dreams of their families and can carry the weight of those expectations. Coming from a Hmong refugee family, my parents struggled to meet the needs of all seven children. By the time my parents graduated high school in the U.S., they already had six children, with me on the way. They needed a way to support all of us and therefore could not further their education. My father has always told me that he wished he could have received more schooling and to value education because they never got a chance to chase after it. Going to college meant proving my parents' sacrifices were not in vain. 

Growing up in North Minneapolis, I often had to persist through doubts on my college readiness from others based on where I was from. I attended a school that had a student population of 90% students of color. When I told others where I planned to attend for college, people often responded with shock by saying, “Not a lot of students from North Minneapolis get into that school.” In a way I felt proud to be able to make this accomplishment, but also had to grapple with the low expectations others had for me and those from my neighborhood. This continued through college. In college, students are allowed to change their classes within the first one to two weeks of the semester. In my first semester, I decided to switch into a class after the first week and was asked to introduce myself to the class. The professor grilled me on where I was from and which high school I attended to finally ask me at the end, “Do you feel prepared to come to college?” Just from briefly knowing where I was from, he determined my fit for college without knowing that I took International Baccalaureate (IB) courses, College in the Schools (CIS), and Post-Secondary Enrollment Option (PSEO) courses throughout high school. IB is an internationally recognized college-prep program and both CIS and PSEO are college classes with high school students receiving college credits. I set out to graduate and prove my place in college. 

After I graduated from college, I went straight to get my master’s degree and was the first in my immediate family to receive a graduate degree. In my first professional job, my salary was more than both of my parents’ salaries combined. My parents have always told us to focus on education so that we can get a well paying job in the future. This dream has come true. Although they did not have much, they supported seven children to receive a postsecondary education. As a first-generation college student, college was a way to give back to my parents for the sacrifices that they made to provide me with this opportunity. 

As the College Readiness Coordinator in the College Readiness Consortium, I am excited to bring my experience in college access and success to support the goals of students pursuing a postsecondary education. Prior to this position, I served as a High School Counselor and an Academic Advisor for the TRIO Student Support Services program at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities. One of my goals is to help students and families understand the transition between high school and college. College can look drastically different from high school, so understanding the differences can allow students to be better prepared. My goals are to help make college more accessible to all students and provide the support for students to make informed decisions about their future.


About the Author

Kevin Xiong, M.A., is the College Readiness Coordinator within the College Readiness Consortium at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities. The College Readiness Consortium aims to prepare all students to be college ready through the partnerships with K-12 educators, youth workers, and programs across the UMN campuses. Kevin has extensive experience with college access and success through his work as a High School Counselor, Academic Advisor with the TRIO Student Support Services program, and various college access programs throughout the Twin Cities.

More Blog Posts