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First-generation college graduates: A phenomenological exploration of their transition experiences into the corporate sector

Malar Hirudayaraj (Department of Service Systems, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, New York, USA)
Gary N. McLean (McLean Global Consulting, Inc, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA)

European Journal of Training and Development

ISSN: 2046-9012

Article publication date: 19 February 2018




The purpose of this paper is to investigate the experiences of first-generation college graduates in the USA, as they transitioned from higher education into employment in the private sector. First-generation college graduates are from families in which neither parent had a bachelor’s degree.


This paper used phenomenology to gain an understanding of the transition experiences of first-generation college graduates employed within the corporate sector.


First-generation status influences the experiences of students beyond college and limits their awareness of and access to graduate employment. Lack of college education in the family affects the graduates’ career decision-making, familiarity with corporate culture and expectations, preparedness for the corporate sector and restricted access to people with the ability to ease their entry into the sector. These translate into transition outcomes such as starting at entry-level positions not requiring a college degree, delayed access to graduate-level positions, having to engage intentionally in additional efforts to reach graduate-level positions and potential to be discriminated against during the recruitment process, albeit unintentionally.

Research limitations/implications

Is first-generation status yet another structural contextual factor that influences career decision self-efficacy? Is the influence of FG status common across sectors? Longitudinal studies need to be conducted across sectors, regions and countries.

Practical implications

There is a need to sensitize faculty and career service staff to career-related challenges of first-generation students and for programs and policies that increase awareness of these students regarding professional environments and expectations. There are social justice implications for recruitment strategies and overcoming discrimination.


This paper explored first-generation college graduates’ experiences, an issue hitherto not explored in depth.



Hirudayaraj, M. and McLean, G.N. (2018), "First-generation college graduates: A phenomenological exploration of their transition experiences into the corporate sector", European Journal of Training and Development, Vol. 42 No. 1/2, pp. 91-109.



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