Sierra going to college

When getting ready for college, many teens miss out on an important step – understanding personal finances that support everything from buying groceries to keeping savings and scholarships in order. First-generation college student Sierra M. (18), shares how her Boys & Girls Club helped her prepare for life after high school.

How First-Generation College Student Sierra Got Ready for Graduation
Posted 10/11/2022 by Sierra M. in Youth Voice, Partner News

Big Bend

“Driven” and “goal-focused” are the first two words I’d pick to describe myself. (And, honestly, if I had to choose a third, it would be “dorky!”)  

I love paying attention to small things like the architecture of old buildings and the people and things in my surroundings – but I’ve got big dreams in sight, too. It’s important that I learn something new every day and finish my education. 

My favorite class in high school was biomedical engineering. It was a very hands-on class and solidified for me that I want to go into the medical field. 

As my senior year approached, I knew I needed extra support to prepare for college entrance tests, apply for scholarships and stay on track with my college applications. 

My parents hadn’t gone through the process themselves and I don’t have any older siblings, so this was my family’s first journey down that road. I’m a first-generation college kid.

Preparation Pays Off

When you think about a high school experience, I really threw myself into it. I built stages and sets for my school’s theatre productions, pole vaulted on the track and field team, participated in student government, and joined the robotics team. It was great to spend time with friends and make new ones, but I don’t even know when I had time to do homework. My parents are super proud of me for accomplishing so much in high school.

I had a support system along the way – my mentor Ms. Nancy Kenok from Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee. She helped me get ready for life after high school and manage the pressure to graduate and succeed. Most importantly, she taught me some fun and easy icebreakers to use to make new friends at college. Even though Ms. Nancy doesn’t think so, I identify as an introvert so having those icebreakers in my back pocket has been really helpful. I know I’ll always have Ms. Nancy to lean on no matter what – she's just an email away!

As I prepared for a big step no one in my family has taken, Ms. Nancy encouraged me to take part in Money Matters: Make it Count, a financial literacy program at the Club. Money Matters taught me the 50/30/20 rule – or the basic rule of thumb for dividing my earnings into categories for:

  • things I need, 
  • what I want, 
  • and my savings. 

Now that I’m a freshman at Marquette University, I continue to use the tips I learned in Money Matters to manage my savings account and scholarship funds. While I wait to get my first on-campus job, I feel confident in the financial literacy skills I learned at my Boys & Girls Club and continue to apply them to real-life situations. 

I’m living in a dorm and responsible for making sure that I have all the necessities. Every time I’m at the grocery store, I keep my budget in mind and try not to make the same mistakes I’ve made previously. The simulations we ran through in the Money Matters program prepared me for these situations: I’ll be looking at popular name brand items on the shelf next to the less-expensive store brand items and remind myself that the only difference is the label!

Hard Work and Big (Tiny Home) Plans

Moving from high school to college can be difficult for so many teens, and even more so for those of us who are the first in our family to take that step. 

I continue to set goals and plan for what’s ahead of me. Having graduated high school as class valedictorian and the 2022 National Money Matters Ambassador from Charles Schwab Foundation and Boys & Girls Clubs of America, I’ve seen big results from my hard work. I’m excited to see what’s next. 

My personal goals are to major in Biomedical Science and minor in Spanish, build my own tiny home to travel the world in (I already have a very detailed Pinterest board dedicated to this), and become a physician’s assistant. 

My advice for teens thinking about life after high school is to stay organized, jump into the opportunities that come your way, find a mentor who has been through this process before and lean on support systems to help you achieve your goals. 

After all, no one can do it alone!

Join the Club

Boys & Girls Clubs of America provides mentorship, meals and meaningful life experiences to millions of young people across the nation. Boys & Girls Clubs are safe, inclusive places where kids learn, grow and have fun. Join us on our mission of helping all young people reach their full potential:





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