Advice for First Generation College Students, Interview with Denise Boiko

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This week on Homeschool Highschool Podcast: Advice for First Generation College Students, Interview with Denise Boiko.

Advice for First Generation College Students, Interview with Denise Boiko. Tips for prep during high school and success in college.

Advice for First Generation College Students, Interview with Denise Boiko

I can remember long, long ago when I was ready to start my first college classes. My parents, who both had college degrees, gave me tips for success:

  • Sit in the front of the room
  • Keep your pencil in your hand so it, at least, looks like you are taking notes
  • Visit the professor during office hours and have a question to ask
  • On exams, first look over the exam so you know how to pace yourself, the answer as many as you can quickly, leave blank things you don’t know and go back to those later
  • Ask for extra credit if you need it
  • Ask for help if you need it

How did my parents know these things? They had been through college, and even taught at college level for a little while. It was insider tips!

So I started out the very first day of college better prepared than some of my peers who were the first in their families to go to college. They had to learn all this the hard way.

It has long been important to me in my work as a counselor (and in my years as a homeschool advisor), to help first generation college students start off with tools for success. That’s why I was excited when Denise Boiko, homeschool advisor and author of Homeschooled & Headed for College, contacted me about her experiences as a first generation college student.

Denise agreed to share advice for first generation college students so that they can survive and thrive…and the good news, ALL college students will benefit from her advice.

Denise homeschooled her students all the way through graduation. Then one went on to graduate from Stanford University and one from University of Southern California (one in Engineering and the other in Medicine and now a pediatrician). Denise (like the 7Sisters) continued to serve her homeschool community as teacher of local group classes and academic advisor. Her experience led her to write her book Homeschooled & Headed for College.

Denise was the first high school graduate in her family to go to college. She came from a hard-working farming family who had never needed college. Denise loved learning and wanted to go to college. She had the support of her parents, which was helpful to her.

She found out that college is different from high school and that she was needing to survival skills that other students (whose parents went to college before them) already knew.

Denise makes it a point to share the college-success tips for first generation college students:

Prepare during high school

  • Start during high school, if possible, by talking to others who are in college or have been to college. (Ask about their college experiences.)
  • Look at resources to support first-generation students
  • Find a teacher/mentor (a favorite teacher in homeschool courses, an advisor, mentor program)
  • Look at College Board’s website and check out their resources
  • Use Kahn Academy’s resources
  • Look at local college’s websites:
    • See what they are looking for in incoming freshmen
    • See if they have a visit-program for first generation kids
    • See if they have scholarships for first generation kids

Start preparing for college during high school.

Applying to college

Succeeding at the very start of college

  • Meet your professors
  • Attend their office hours
  • Ask for help
  • Get a tutor (many college have them)
  • Attend study sessions given by professor or teaching assistants (TA)
  • Join a study group in class, when available
  • Find online study aids that are tied to your textbooks (like solutions manuals and extra materials)
  • Don’t allow you to talk to yourself as “disadvantaged”. Believe in yourself.

While in college

  • Be continuously looking for scholarships (they are sometimes available throughout the college years)
  • Look for fee waivers each year


  • Remember to thank your parents, your mentors, you in your own story
  • Develop your own “credo” for success
  • Pay it forward in the future by investing in younger students

Check out Denise’s helpful book: Homeschooled & Headed for College. Here are some things it covers:

  • Locating or designing honors and advanced courses
  • Seeking out leadership opportunities that provide fun, growth, and positive attention from admissions staff—even at highly competitive colleges
  • Preparing your student for college entrance exams
  • Helping your high schooler navigate community college courses
  • Tackling college applications and coaching your student through application essays
  • Helping your student prepare for college entrance exams
  • Gathering recommendation letters
  • Scouting out scholarships and financial aid
  • Planning a gap year if your student desires a time of exploration
  • Leveraging the #1 college admissions secret, for which homeschoolers are excellently positioned

You can find Denise at:

Available at
Facebook: @HomeschooledAndHeadedForCollege
Amazon Author Page:
For more college-success tips, check out:
College Success episode of Finish Well Podcast (with our friend, Meredith Curtis)
What Colleges Like to See from Homeschoolers (Homeschool Highschool Podcast)
Join Vicki and Denise for an encouraging chat with advice for first generation college students.


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