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First-Generation MBA Students at Oxford Saïd Reflect on Higher Education

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Many difficulties can be associated with being a first-generation MBA student.  Oxford Saïd students recount such challenges as coming from an impoverished background or attempting to explain school to family without a frame of reference; however, many have transcended the challenges of being first-generation thanks to the diverse cohort in the program.  With a focus on inclusion, the community’s welcoming atmosphere has been essential to their success and comfort in higher education.

“One of the beauties of Oxford Saïd is, there is such variety here that everyone has a unique background,” explained RK Kelford, a Saïd MBA student. “First-generation students are just one of the many different facets.”

The Challenges of Forging a New Path

When Mustapha El Akkari wanted to leave a steady career for an MBA at Oxford, he initially met a wall of confusion when he told his parents. “My parents didn’t understand why I would give up a good corporate job with salary and benefits to pursue an MBA,” he remembered. “Once they understood that my past and future successes were due in part to my education, and the prestige that Oxford represented, they got it, and have since been very supportive.”

While Napala Pratini’s parents were supportive, there was still a sense of disadvantage as they couldn’t offer any insight into evaluating business schools, offers, or filling out applications. “I had no idea which universities were better than others or how to evaluate the offers. My parents were of course supportive, but they couldn’t offer the same insights that parents who had been through the process could.” Meanwhile, Natalie Wong’s parents thought it was good enough just to pass classes, but that simply wasn’t the case.

The Advantages of Being a First-Generation MBA Student

However, some advantages come with being a first-generation MBA student. For RJ Kelford, he was used to not having a lot of money and accepting risk, so that translated easily to life as an entrepreneur. He was more adventurous than many of his classmates, and that catalyzed his entrepreneurial career.

First-generation students also recognize the profound impact of higher education. According to Patrick Kolla, “Education has fundamentally changed my view of the world. It helped me realize the world is made up of people, and there’s no need to be intimidated. If you don’t have the knowledge you need, simply go out and get it.”

Advice from First-Generation MBA Students

As for what advice Oxford Saïd’s MBA students would give others?

  • Don’t be intimidated by your background; be bold, and find a mentor if you can. And be kind to your parents as they try to understand your path. —Natalie Wong
  • People actually really respect first-generation students, so use it to your advantage – it’s a hurdle that most don’t have to get over, so you should wear it as a badge of honour. —Napala Pratini
  • The more you refine the skills that set you apart, the more powerful your impact will be. —Mustapha El Akkari
  • If you have an idea of what you want to do start researching and see what it takes to get there. Then apply and you just might surprise yourself by getting in. —Patrick Kolla
  • Be bold and take chances during your education and when following your passions. Make sure to set specific goals along the way, and don’t hesitate to ask for help. Most importantly, believe in yourself and your ability to succeed in your endeavours. —Jared Retka
  • Engage with your community, share your insights, and lean on others for help. —RJ Kelford

Read the full news story here to get to know Oxford Saïd’s first-generation MBA students a little better.

Kelly Vo
Kelly Vo is a writer who specializes in covering MBA programs, digital marketing, and topics related to personal development. She has been working in the MBA space for the past four years in research, interview, and writing roles.