Graduate student Jia Cao, is the first of her immediate family, and one of the few people in her extended family to get an undergraduate degree. 

However, Cao wanted to take it one step further, and upon her graduation from Ohio State University with a Bachelors in Psychology, she made the decision to attend Lehigh University to pursue a masters in Psychology, with a focus on counseling and human services in the College of Education. 


Cao initially sought out Lehigh for her masters because the programs they offered under the College of Education felt very suitable to her. She wanted the program she entered into to have a strong emphasis on social justice, and Lehigh, she said, had just that. 

Thankfully for Cao, Lehigh’s program also happened to be more affordable compared to other universities she was looking at. 

Although Cao has been a student for a long time now, she says her experiences as a first-generation student have continued throughout her undergraduate and graduate education. 

“Sometimes I wouldn’t think of myself as a first generation student, and instead just have negative connotations or affirmations toward myself,” said Cao. 

She said that growing up, she never saw her parents reading books or having some sort of association with academia. She said it makes her conditioned to feel like she is just never going to be as good at some things just because she is a first generation student. 

However, she also recognizes that being a first-generation student has brought her many new, amazing experiences and has allowed her to capitalize on more self-exploration, self-teaching, and her independence. 

Cao said she is extremely thankful to her parents because despite their lack of experience in a higher education, they always supported her and instilled the importance onto her of going to college and pursuing her dreams. 

At Lehigh, Cao has joined the Outing Club which has loved being a part of. 

“They’re a pretty diverse group of people, with different ethnicities and home countries, so I think it’s easy to relate to them and fun to care about their different backgrounds,” said Cao.

She also said moving back to in-person classes has enhanced her Lehigh experience as acclimating to the culture of a new school has been more easier and more enjoyable now that she can get to know her classmates in person.

Listen to Cao talk about career and academic resources at Lehigh, as well as, share her advice and experiences on our Career and Academic Support page.