Do students stop participating in FIRST once in college?

So I am in my second year of college now and occasionally see people wearing FRC team appeal. I’ve seen some big teams like 195, 1678, 254 and just today 148. None of these people have joined or even come to a meeting of our FIRST club and I don’t know why. My friend hypothesized that people on big teams have no interest in continuing after high school. The only other reason I can think of is that they do not know our club exists.
So I would like to know what the CD community thinks.

  1. Why do you think students are not joining our club?
  2. If you are in high school will you continue with FIRST when you are in college? Why or why not?
  3. If you are or were in college did you continue with FIRST? Why or why not?
  4. Any other thoughts you have on the subject.
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I mentored my freshman year. It’s not worth it in college IMO. First, college is hard enough without committing yourself to a FIRST team. Second, there are many other opportunities that are, for the most part, only available in college. Engineering competition specifically, there is Formula SAE, solar racing team, AIAA Design/Build/Fly, and Rube Goldberg (I’m sure there are many others). I strongly urge kids that were on FIRST teams to go try these other things since FIRST will probably be waiting for them after they graduate and have a job.


I definitely wouldn’t recommend mentoring in college (I didn’t do it, but knowing how hard college can be, your grades take precedence over volunteering).

Second, I think that a lot of students/Alumni don’t realize what mentoring is really like.

I’ve seen Alumni come back to meetings after graduation, but they only stay for a few meetings before changing their minds

  1. Could be a combination of poor advertising, what your club does, or just the fact that there are a lot of activities in college and sometimes it’s nice to branch out. There were a ton of FIRST alumni at North Dakota State University that had no interest in being involved with Bison Robotics. It has nothing to do with the club… they just wanted to try other things. College is an awesome opportunity to branch out and find out what you like to do.

  2. NA

  3. I did continue with FIRST in college. I started Bison Robotics at NDSU which grew to 150 members by the time I graduated. I’m also crazy and not a great example for what to do during college. Starting a collegiate robotics organization your Freshman year isn’t for everybody.

  4. I don’t think there’s necessarily a correlation between students on top teams participating in FIRST related activities vs alumni from lesser known teams. I think it’s likely that elite team shirts just happen to catch your eye more.

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First, I think they don’t continue with FIRST because they probably don’t have the time. I’ve heard how time-consuming college can be.

Second, I am definently going to try to compete on a FIRST college team (Ri3D?)/mentor a team/volunteer at events while in college. My grades will take precedence over this, but I hope to continue FIRST in college.

Why do you think students are not joining our club?
There could be many reasons

  • They want to expand their horizons and try new things
  • The benefits of being in the club do not outweigh the costs (ie lost time, membership dues, etc)
  • The club doesn’t do anything (not saying that’s true of your club)

If you are in high school will you continue with FIRST when you are in college? Why or why not?
If my friend were not the one starting the club and needed warm bodies to register, I would not have joined. I was doing FIRST stuff outside of the club anyways and I didn’t see any benefit to joining as the club had no real goals.

If you are or were in college did you continue with FIRST? Why or why not?
I helped start and mentor a team which was ultimately a really stupid decision* for me. Upon realizing I really needed to focus on graduating, I stopped being a mentor and instead became an FTC volunteer. It was a better experience for me and increased the likelihood I would remain involved in FIRST. However, getting into volunteering happened more by chance than by choice - something a FIRST Alumni Group could have initiated but didn’t.

Any other thoughts you have on the subject.
Others won’t want to join your club unless you give them some tangible benefits or do something worthwhile. Don’t mentor in college. Some people move on from FIRST while in college because they’re trying to not be the same person they were in high school. That is 100% okay.

Also, you can buy or trade for team shirts, so I would not make assumptions about teams based on random kid in a shirt.

*I promised myself that my grades would take top priority and skipped meetings to prepare for tests, etc. My grades still suffered as a direct result of mentoring.

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1: People do other things when they graduate. Nothing wrong with that. For a large chunk of alumni, school, jobs, and other college activities are more important that staying involved with FIRST.

2/3: Kept involved, as a volunteer, mentor, and through my university’s alumni group (formerly GOFIRST, now University of Minnesota Robotics)

4: Personally, I was happy to stay involved, and FIRST was a fantastic part of my college experience. Figuring out what sort of balance you want to your life, what’s important to you, all that should be a part of figuring out how FIRST fits into your college experience. Figure out what your priorities are, and reduce or increase your involvement as necessary. Taking some time to norm to college/university/post-high school life is definitely a good idea before you commit (or overcommit) to any FIRST involvement.

Life happens.

College, especially engineering is a huge time commitment.

After college, you’re working on your career and what your doing with your life.

I’m not an alumni, but I knew of FRC probably 3-4 years before I was settled enough to make that commitment. Even now, it’s hard on my family. Their very supportive of it, but they notice it’s harder.

What do I stand to really gain from it? Not much that I know of other than practice. Most of what we do in FRC hasn’t really transferred back to my particular job that I like and want to do for a long time.

I do enjoy it and promoting STEM

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People don’t want to join things that don’t have a purpose and good foundations.

People want to do new things.

Not everyone is defined by one thing they did in high school, or they want to redefine themselves.

Try something new in college, I wish I had when I was a freshman. I stopped after sophomore year and it was the best decision ever.


Also, keep in mind that just because they wear a big name team’s shirt doesn’t mean they were on that team. They might just be a fan. I know plenty of students in my region who have 254 shirts or 1114 shirts that are not on those teams.

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Others have mostly said what I would, but I’ll add this:

You see shirts from some teams more often than others for two reasons. First, those teams may simply have more students than other teams. My team graduated 3 seniors last year. The odds that you would see any of them on your campus are pretty close to 0. Second, those teams may simply have more shirts floating around. Shirt trading is real, and even though I don’t trade shirts myself I have one from 3 other teams. Don’t make the assumption that anyone wearing a given shirt is actually from that team. Conversely, recognize that if you are wearing a team’s shirt, you’re representing them, whether you’re on their team or not.

Also, consider how the experience might be different for different teams. A student on an 80-person team is going to have a different experience than one on a 10-person team (I’m not saying one is better than the other, just different). On a larger team, you might find kids specialize more, while on a smaller team you get people that go all-in and get involved in all aspects of the team. It could also have to do with the school size they come from. Smaller schools, like mine, mean kids are involved in multiple activities - FIRST may have been a gateway to their major at college, but they may have other passions they want to pursue in their extracurricular activities. With larger schools, students tend to specialize more, with less overlap between activities (simply because there aren’t enough spots in the activities for everyone!), so FIRST might be all they were involved in.

Your best bet to understanding why people haven’t joined your club is to ask them! Ask if they’ve heard of it, if they’d be interested in spending some time there, and most importantly, why not! Figure out how to make your club attractive to them and to set it apart from their other options on campus, and then make sure everyone knows about you!


I was asking myself this same question only a few months ago, going into my first year at Illinois Tech. I was pleasantly surprised when I went to the first (heheh) meeting of Illinois Tech Robotics (ITR) and found that the club was full of other FIRST nerds and addicts just like me. I think it’s important for a FIRST alumni club to have a purpose: for us, we get people from competiting in MRDC, however we still get people in just for being FIRST alums. We send people all throughout the city of Chicago to volunteer at FTC tournaments, as well as travel to a few FRC events each year. I think it’s important for you to clarify why your club exists and why people should join it; Hosting an event, free food, helping with travel to events, connections to VCs/RPC members,etc. Having the funding of your school to help with projects and etc is probably the most important part of an alumni club, and making sure people are aware that’s why you exist and what you can do for them.

So I’ve been graduated for 6 years and have definitely seen this before, so…

  1. Some people may not know that the FIRST club exists, and others may not have time given how hard some college courses can be.
    2/3. I continued with FIRST as much as I could since I graduated, I went back to my team immediately to start mentoring (or learning how to mentor more accurately). I’ve slowly grown to be a full mentor for the team and currently help during the season with scouting and competitions, as well as being a main mentor during offseason competitions. I also volunteer in NE FIRST events as much as I can and will be doing my third year doing so in the Boston area. I love FIRST and everyone I meet and the impact the program made on me, and I always want to pay it forward so someone else can have that positive impact from the program.
  2. I have friends that haven’t gone back to the program for various reasons, most from not having the time being right out of college and trying to work their own jobs. I feel like most people that don’t go back still appreciate FIRST and if they had more time would give back in some way if they could.

Just my thoughts on the subject!

College was/is stressful and I wouldn’t have had the time to commit to a team the way I would want to as a mentor. I didn’t start mentoring again until this year after being out of school for a year. Now I have more “free time” to fully dedicate myself since my only obligation is going to work.

I think its a mixture of a few things.

1st: I think that students are busy with life during college and have much less time than in high school.

2nd: The top teams tend to not allow mentors to be within their first two years of college. This is to allow an age gap between the students and the mentors so there is a natural aspect of respect. The students on those teams may use that time to enhance their skills, rather than being a senior +1 year.

3rd: They most likely don’t know that you’re there. They are not spending their time looking for a new team to join.

Also, you may not want a freshman in college to be a mentor on your team. In my experience, they tend to seem immature; especially when being held to adult standards. Even for mature students, the transition is a hard one. Going from just doing it to helping guide them in their process of doing it is a big change.

That being said, I know plenty of students that became mentors on their team directly after high school and are wonderful with their students. It’s just not very common.

I helped start a team in the town my college was at, and served the head mentor for 1.5 years. It was a valuable experience, BUT if I could go back, I definitely wouldn’t do it again. My last year and a half of college was much more enjoyable, and let me focus on the things I wouldn’t be able to do post-graduation. Frankly, I’m having a much better time mentoring now (my first year after college) than I did at college.

That being said, one of the seasons I wasn’t mentoring in college, I volunteered at tournaments instead; that frankly was a much better choice than continuing to mentor.

I started a robotics (VEX U) team in college with the help of some other FIRST alum and for a while we had trouble recruiting. I know they still have trouble recruiting people with previous robotics experience. The biggest thing I hear from people when they finally join in their 3rd/4th year of college is that they did not know we existed. We advertised in school newsletters, went to all of the org fairs including engineering specific ones, and talked to intro engineering classes. Somehow through all of that people still missed us. The trick is figuring out how to reach the right people. Like other people have said, people might just not be interested in joining and prefer to find different challenges like school, work, or another engineering competition.

My son @ExploitSage, was definitely ready to mentor a nearby team. He mentored 3468, over a half hour’s drive from his dorm and school, but stopped then the team didn’t even let him know when build sessions were. (He’s back with them again.) My takeaways from this and some other potential mentor situations are:

  1. If anyone expresses interest in helping, send them “informational” e-mails as long as you can stand to do so. Won’t hurt, and may help.
  2. Don’t wait for people to show up - recruit. If there’s a tech college nearby, find a reason to go to some of their outreach events, wearing your team shirt with FRC and a team number clearly displayed. Talk about your team to people there. Be passionate. At worst, you’ve wasted an afternoon. At best, you’ve found an awesome addition to your team. The risk/reward on this one’s pretty sweet.

I definitely want to stay involved with FIRST through college and beyond, but echoing others’ sentiments, I’m not sure mentoring is the best way for me to do so, at least this first year.

I really hope to volunteer at a few Michigan events this semester once I get my schedule sorted out, and I know that here at U of M, FAMNM (FIRST alumni group) does a great job helping facilitate volunteering in the area. I think that is probably one of the key ways that a collegiate FIRST alumni association can have a positive impact and contribution back to the community, and it may appeal to a broader audience of college students who want to stay involved but don’t want to overcommit.

This topic seems to come up every now and again. I originally wrote this blog post response to a thread that JVN started this summer, but it seems relevant to this discussion here as well.

  1. I’d be interested in comparing notes with you. We don’t advertise 6844 to the BYU community very well, though we have had several college students (~4-5) reach out because of our presence on The Blue Alliance. We rely heavily on college-age alumni.
  2. N/A; see blog post for details.
  3. See blog post for details.
  4. College mentoring is a personal decision. I have personally benefitted from @KrazyCarl92’s mentorship when I was in high school and he was in college. In general, I do think that some sort of a gap is appropriate for the majority of FRC graduates. At the 2018 Founder’s Reception, Dean made the comment that he keeps seeing the same people year after year, and that FIRST has no exit strategy. I think that this is pretty unfortunate. I think that no matter what your age or situation, you should go into mentorship with clear commitment boundaries.