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Navigating College as a First-Generation Student


National First-Generation College Celebration Day

On November 8th, we celebrate National First-Gen Student Day. These students are the first of their families to earn a college degree. We congratulate and celebrate all of our first-generation students, faculty, and staff who have made the impressive decision to trailblaze their own college experience.

First-generation college students experience unique challenges and successes.

Kristie Johnson is the Assistant Director of Data Analytics here in CASAS and is also a first-generation college student. This is her experience as a first-generation college student at Liberty University.

Navigating College as a First-Gen Student

While neither of her parents attended college, they were still both very business savvy. After deciding what Kristie wanted her life to look like, she knew she needed the education to make that happen. She initially began her educational journey by starting her Psychology degree at Lynchburg College, now the University of Lynchburg. She ended up transferring to Liberty University during her Sophomore year and graduated with a B.S. in Government: Pre-Law.

When Kristie was in college, she honestly never even thought of herself as a first-generation college student. She didn’t hear the term until after graduation.

First-generation students have to blaze their own path without their parent’s experiences to help guide them. Kristie enjoyed this aspect of her college experience along with the memories and immense growth she experienced.

The most challenging part of being a first-generation student for Kristie and her parents was navigating the college waters for the first time. For instance, things like financial check-in and class registration were new to all of them. Due to the fact that Kristie switched schools and majors, she ended up taking five years to graduate with her bachelor’s degree. At the time, she would have made it a shorter experience but now she wouldn’t change a thing about it.

Higher Education and Beyond

Kristie says the most rewarding part of being a first-generation college student was the sense of accomplishment that she felt when graduating. 

She is the first person on her dad’s side of the family to graduate from college. Because of this, she can see the immense pride her parents have for her. After going back to graduate school while being a mother, she loves showing her daughter that she can do anything that she sets her mind to.

Not only did Kristie successfully obtain her undergraduate degree, but she also graduated in May of 2020 with an M.B.A in Project Management. She was working at Liberty while earning her Master’s.

She says, “without my B.S. I would not be in the position I am currently.”

Encouragement for First-Gen Students

For first-gen college students, Kristie suggests that you don’t let the pressure of choosing a major weigh you down.

After asking many people, very few working professionals were in the exact field that they got a degree in. However, they recognized the need for a degree to open the doors they wanted to walk through. This knowledge helped Kristie to let go of the idea of one perfect major for her.

For the loved ones of first-gen college students, Kristie notes that you can encourage these students in your life by sharing in their experience and showing them support. Just because there is no path for the student to follow from, that doesn’t mean that it is too hard for them to succeed.

Kristie’s favorite quote is by Earl Nightingale: “Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.” 

Kristie started and finished her M.B.A in her early 30’s while being a full-time employee, mom, and wife. She also finished her degree amidst a pandemic, so if she can do it, anyone can!


Savannah Kirby

Written By:

Savannah Kirby


Operations Student Assistant
College of Applied Studies & Academic Success


Kristie Johnson


Assistant Director of Data Analytics
College of Applied Studies & Academic Success