College Wasn't For Me.. Then I Got A Master's Degree, Brooke Burlingame, first generation student


College wasn’t even on my radar as my high school graduation crept closer and closer, but because of some amazing teachers, professors, and other mentors, I went from graduating high school in 2014 to graduating with my master’s degree in May 2020.

I'm Brooke Burlingame, and I am a two-time NMU graduate and a first-generation student. "First-gen" means that I am the first one in my family to pursue a 4-year degree and, let me tell you, this definitely came with its challenges.

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Since I was a first-generation student, I never thought going to college would be an option for me. My parents never pushed me towards it and they allowed me the flexibility to choose my own path. My first plan as a senior in high school was to pursue cosmetology school. However, I had two art teachers who kept encouraging me to go to college and pursue an arts degree. This was when I decided I would at least try community college. At this point, I was graduated from high school and had only a couple of summer months to put my community college plan in motion.

Brooke BurlingameThis was when I started asking all the questions: How do I pay for this? Are classes difficult? How do I choose classes? What kinds of things will I learn? How long will it take me to graduate? Wait, I only take 3-4 classes per semester? I understood nothing... and, unfortunately, community college didn’t give me a lot of support or answers to these questions.

During my first semester at community college, I visited a couple of friends who went to NMU. To say I fell in love with the university and Marquette would be an understatement. My visit was in September of 2014 and by the end of January 2015, I had moved into Van Antwerp Hall and started my NMU journey.

I had an amazing transfer admissions counselor who went above and beyond and made sure that I had all the knowledge I needed, and everything set so I could transfer mid-year. He answered all of my questions and even put me in touch with other offices that could answer some specific questions I had. I still didn’t know much about college though.

I didn’t realize how much freedom I would have, and with that, how much responsibility I would have. I ended up changing my major two times in my first semester.

I landed on Public Relations as my major and in the fall I took an 'Intro to Marketing' course. I was excited because my professor recommended me for a student marketing position in the University Marketing and Communications office. Being able to work in that office was when I really began to figure out what I wanted to use my degree for - higher education marketing.

Brooke BurlingameThroughout my undergraduate degree, I received a lot of encouragement from professors, staff, and even my peers. It was such a collaborative community and it focused not just on academics, but also on personal growth. A lot of that encouragement included recommendations to go to graduate school. (To be honest, I didn’t even know what graduate school would look like!)

After graduating early from my undergrad, I took a semester off to plan for my future. I was offered a graduate assistantship in the University Marketing and Communications office where I could work and earn my master’s degree simultaneously. I decided to pursue a Master of Arts in Higher Education and Student Affairs. If I wanted to continue working in higher education, I needed to learn and better understand everything that went into a student’s higher ed experience.

During my master’s degree, I again saw encouragement and support from my professors, staff, and peers. Without their help, I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today. I was even able to reconnect with some of my undergraduate teachers who were always available to help me make decisions about my capstone research and graduate school in general. I couldn’t imagine getting to experience all of this at any other school.

→ Takeaway

If you are a first-generation student, or even just someone who isn't sure that college is for them, please do not be scared by the college process. Ask as many questions as you need to (I promise - there are no silly questions!) If you need to, change your major a couple of times until you find what you like. Really understand the financial aid process - you go through it each year and it gets easier. Get connected with the campus community and check out all of the first-generation resources offered. You've got this!

Brooke Burlingame


Alumni Author Information

Name: Brooke Burlingame

Hometown: Davenport, Iowa

Major: Bachelor of Science in Public Relations '17; Master of Arts in Higher Education and Student Affairs '20

Minor(s): Art and Design

Instagram: @bburling96