Headshot of Cherry Tran, with the blog title 'Navigating MBA Recruitment ad a First-Generation Student' to the right.

Cherry Tran, is a 2024 graduate of the Kellogg School of Management’s 2Y MBA program. Originally from Charlotte, NC, Cherry is a first-generation college student. After earning her undergraduate degree in Economics from Duke University, she pursued a Master’s in Accountancy from Vanderbilt University. Prior to Kellogg, she worked as a public accountant at EY in Washington, DC. Now, Cherry is pivoting to a marketing career and will be joining Colgate-Palmolive full-time after graduation.

Finding Success as a First-Generation MBA Candidate

As a first-generation college student myself, I understand the challenges you might face during MBA recruitment. But fear not! With the right approach, you can excel in this competitive environment.

First, be incredibly proud! Embarking on an MBA journey as a first-generation student is a remarkable achievement. You’re not only the first in your family to attend college, but you’re pursuing an advanced degree. Your unique experiences are a strength, not a weakness!

In this blog post, I’ll share some valuable tips I wish I knew during my own journey.

Three image collage. The first image is Cherry with a graduation cap and her mom. The middle photo is Cherry accepting her diploma at graduation. The third is a photo of Cherry's mother, father and her at graduation.

The Power of Coffee Chats:

Networking is crucial for MBA recruitment, and coffee chats are a powerful tool. As a first-generation student, you might not have access to the same resources or extensive networks as your peers. However, that doesn’t mean you’re starting from scratch!

Reach out to alumni, industry professionals, and current students for informational interviews over coffee. These conversations offer insights into different career paths, company cultures, and valuable advice not readily available elsewhere.

  • Authenticity is key: Approach coffee chats with genuineness. Share your story as a first-generation student and express your genuine interest in learning from their experiences.
  • Ask thoughtful questions: Prepare insightful questions about their career paths, industry trends, and advice for someone in your position.
  • Think beyond the interview: I used to get bogged down by the thought of a coffee chat or would feel like they were repetitive and tedious. Re-frame that thought. Don’t view these chats solely as informational interviews. They’re opportunities to reconfirm company cultures, assess values, and build relationships.

Seek Help and Build Your Support System:

Being a first-generation MBA candidate doesn’t mean going it alone. Utilize the resources available to you, such as mentors, career services, and peers. Seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Your unique perspective can be an asset and those who have been in your shoes are often eager to provide guidance.

  • Mentorship Matters: Identify mentors or advisors who can guide you through the MBA journey. They can provide valuable insights, share their own experiences, and offer constructive feedback.
  • Don’t Underestimate Career Services: Take advantage of the resources offered by your MBA program’s career services department. They can assist with resume building, interview preparation, and connecting you with potential employers. Utilize these resources to their full potential!

Conquering Imposter Syndrome:

Feeling like an imposter is common among many MBA candidates, especially first-generation students. The key is to recognize your achievements, embrace your unique perspective, and understand that you belong in the MBA program and the business world.

Being first-generation is awesome. You’ve gone through a set of challenges that your peers can’t even compete with. Successfully overcoming those obstacles has made you a better doer, thinker, and leader. They have helped you be scrappy, resourceful, and ambitious.

  • Celebrate Your Achievements: Keep a record of your accomplishments and revisit them when self-doubt creeps in. Celebrate your successes and remember that you deserve your place in the MBA program.
  • Find Your Support System: Share your feelings with classmates, friends, or mentors. Openly discussing imposter syndrome can help alleviate its impact. You’ll likely find others have experienced similar feelings. Connecting with a community of first-generation students can also be incredibly helpful – you’re not alone!


As a first-generation MBA candidate, your journey is a testament to your resilience and determination. By embracing the power of coffee chats, seeking help when needed, and conquering imposter syndrome, you’ll be well-positioned for success in MBA recruitment. Remember, your unique perspective is an asset. With the right mindset and strategies, you can achieve your post-MBA career goals.

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