Disadvantaged socioeconomic background

Students come to graduate school from a variety of socioeconomic trajectories, determined by their parents’ educational and occupational circumstances or their own occupational histories. Many students delay higher education to save money, gain professional experience or support their families. Socioeconomic background is a largely “invisible” but important factor that influences students’ mentoring needs.

Economic concerns

Some students do not have family members they can turn to for monetary support throughout graduate school. What’s more, some students support their parents, siblings or other relatives while obtaining their degrees. These students often have jobs outside of their departments, even if they have graduate appointments or fellowships.

Access to professional networks

Graduate students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds can experience greater difficulties accessing or creating professional networks in academe. They might not have had as many opportunities to develop these relationships as their peers from more advantaged backgrounds, especially those peers who grew up in academic families. This disparity surfaces most pointedly when students struggle with the costs of traveling to research or professional conferences and the need to secure summer employment.

Summer professional opportunities

Students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds often must disrupt their academic training during the summer in order to work. Because of financial constraints, many need to seek better-paying jobs off-campus instead of taking no- or low-pay (but academically relevant) internships. Outside employment temporarily distances students from their studies, and fears of falling behind can set in. Professors who are unaware of their students’ financial situations can inadvertently misconstrue interest in outside employment as a lack of commitment to academic study.

Difference in background experiences

Some students can find it intimidating to hear about the spring break or summer travels of fellow students. Those in the arts, humanities and social sciences can feel especially vulnerable knowing that some of their peers have traveled to or lived in the foreign countries they are studying.

Disconnection from family and friends

Many graduate students probably have had to move away from their families. Once students become socialized into their disciplines, talking with family members or old friends about academic work can sometimes be difficult. This communication gap can cause students to feel isolated or disconnected because they feel less comfortable in their old worlds, but not yet settled into their new worlds.


  • Learn from faculty and more experienced students about the ways academic networking works.
  • Be alert to and creative about funding opportunities, especially for the summer. Before spring quarter begins, ask your mentors and professors about their resources and how they can help you strategize for continuous support during your degree program.
  • Ask your professors to put books or course packets on reserve at the library or in the department to help reduce expenses.
  • Encourage and support your peers’ aspirations, just as your mentors and peers support yours.


  • Graduate Funding Information Service (GFIS), UW libraries, offers a user-friendly database, workshops, and individual consultations to help current and admitted graduate students, regardless of economic situation, identify external funding.
  • Office of Student Financial Aid can help students secure short-term loans for emergency assistance. Applications are available through MyUW’s Personal Services or in person at the Office of Student Financial Aid, 105 Schmitz Hall.