As a first-generation American and first-generation college student, Bri Christophers '17 and Nicole Gonzalez '16 found their greatest challenge to be not knowing what they didn’t know. That experience sparked their efforts to create Project Welcome Mat, an online guide to all the things they wished they had known as the first in their families to attend college.
“The whole philosophy of the guide is having answers to the questions we didn’t know were questions yet,” Christophers said, noting that first-gen students — who make up 15 percent of this year’s freshman class — often don’t have the same preconceptions of university life that students from college-educated families do.Project Welcome Mat covers everything from essentials to bring to college (“Rain boots ≠ snow boots. We have all tried. We have all fallen”), to academics (“Don’t think that because you are pre-med you will only be taking science classes all four years, confined to the deep depths of Firestone Library seven days a week”), to Princeton traditions (“Reunions is a big deal: so big, in fact, that it’s a proper noun”).
The guide also includes stories from first-gen students, who recount their own experiences: “You will get to know amazing people at Princeton, the majority of which will welcome your background with curiosity rather than judgment. No one will ask how much money your family makes. And neither will you find reason to ask them the same.”
Since Project Welcome Mat’s debut this summer, the team has partnered with the Office of the Dean of the College to reach more students and has received enthusiastic feedback.
David Cordoba ’20 said the guide instills more confidence in students who have not been exposed to college life. “Project Welcome Mat really is that welcome mat every incoming freshman steps on to get that feel of what college life is like before opening the door into the Orange Bubble,” he said.
The guide can be a useful resource for all freshmen, said Sarah Tian ’18, one of the project’s editors. “Even if you have siblings or parents who have gone to college, what they went through might be different than how you experience it here at Princeton.”
First-gen student Carmen Huynh ’18 said she hopes that the guide will be expanded to discuss not just entering the Orange Bubble, but also leaving it.
“Transitioning into Princeton is only one part of the equation,” Huynh said. “Managing to reconcile the differences that emerge between you and your parents, some of your peers, and your community can be a difficult but also a major part of the first-gen experience.”
For the record
Project Welcome Mat has partnered with the Office of the Dean of the College, not the Dean of Undergraduate Students, as was reported in an earlier version of this story.