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An Alumni Interview with Kevin Berghoff

© Laurin Berghoff

Equal opportunities: Studying as a child of the working class

Although higher education in Germany is free of charge, there is still a gap between students from academic families and non-academic families. This is shown de facto by the "Bildungsrichter" from the 21st Social Survey: According to this survey, 52% of students come from a household in which at least one parent has a university degree. 20% of students have parents with a vocational qualification without a high school diploma. 2% of students in Germany have families of origin without a vocational qualification.
Our alumnus Kevin Berghoff (graduating class 2017 - Bachelor of Business Administration) is the initiator and co-founder of Speed Up, Buddy! Initiative. The aim of the initiative is to support the children of workers and to accompany them through their successful studies up to the start of their careers. After completing his Bachelor's degree in Cologne, Kevin took a CEMS Master's degree at Nova SBE in Portugal and made a seamless entry into a renowned and international management consultancy.
We talked to him about his heart's desire, the Speed Up, Buddy! initiative, and about his time as a student at our School.

Dear Kevin, how did you come up with the idea of Speed Up, Buddy! Initiative?

In my family, no one has ever finished a high school or studied. Therefore, I never had a point of contact in my family environment who could help me with university, internships or semesters abroad. I was lucky to end up in a circle of friends during my first semester at the University of Cologne where everyone knew a lot about such topics. Often the parents or siblings of my friends had studied on their own and knew how things were going in the "economy". This taught me a lot, e.g. how important a semester abroad or even internships are for my later career entry. I was lucky to meet the right people in the first semester. Speed Up, Buddy! wants to create such an environment for young people who are the first in their family to dare to go to university.

Once the idea for the initiative was there, what happened next? Were there certain hurdles you can remember?

First of all, it was about finding a strong team with people from similar backgrounds. But through LinkedIn, a core team of 10 people quickly formed, which now does most of the work. After that we had to apply for registration of our association as a registered association and we were lucky to have a lawyer in our core team. Finally, it was also about how exactly the mentoring should look like now: Who can become a mentor? Do we only support "workers' children"? I'm always amazed at the level of commitment shown by everyone, because it's such an important issue.


My parents always said "Better do an apprenticeship at a company in the neighbouring village. It's safe and you will earn money. If you study, we can't support you financially anyway".

Kevin Berghoff

Workers' children are clearly underrepresented at the universities. What do you think are the reasons for this?

I think my personal story is representative for many "working-class children": My parents always said "Better do an apprenticeship at a company in the neighbouring village. It's safe and you will earn money. If you study, we can't support you financially anyway". In addition, in my circle of friends from the country everyone has done an apprenticeship and so I was immediately exotic when I thought about going to another city to study. For a long time, I didn't know that Bafög ( student grant) existed and that it completely covered the financing of my studies including a semester abroad. Moreover, it is difficult for "working-class children" to assess whether studying is financially worthwhile, as there are no comparable figures in their own families.

Finally, of course it takes a lot of courage to go a different way than the parents did. They know that they cannot fall back on any experience from the family environment. In the end, there is always the question at the back of your mind "What if I fail?" - that leads many working-class children to conclude that education is probably the safer, more down-to-earth way.

© Michael Jesswein

Can you tell us more about Speed Up, Buddy! How are you organized and how does one become a mentee?

We have a core team of 13 people who take care of the central issues such as marketing, partnerships, recruiting mentors and mentees. In our company, all of them work on a voluntary basis and parallel to their main job.  
When a mentee applies to us, he/she must describe his/her motivation: Why should we support you? Which questions can we help with? Afterwards, there will be an initial telephone interview to understand exactly whether there are any other aspects that we need to consider when "matching" with the mentors. Afterwards, based on various factors (course of studies, internships, career aspirations, specific questions), the "perfect" mentor is selected and the mentoring starts. Depending on the possibilities, the mentoring will then take place in person on site, by video or by telephone. The aim is to provide long-term support until the first job after graduation.

You work full-time as a management consultant at McKinsey. How do you manage to combine your work as a management consultant and working with Speed Up, Buddy!?

During the week the focus is clearly on working as a management consultant, but on weekends I like to take the time to push S'UP. The whole project also only works so well because we have a very strong team and the work can be distributed on many shoulders. Since all members of our core team are full-time in similar time-intensive jobs, we are very professionally organized as an association with clear responsibilities and tasks. This may not sound particularly agile and cool, but it is the only way to balance a time-intensive job and S'UP.

From my point of view, to study in Cologne was by far the most formative phase in my life.

Kevin Berghoff

To what extent has your time as a student in Cologne shaped your life?

My time as a student in Cologne completely changed my life. After my Abitur in a very rural area, where many people count down the years to retirement at the age of 20, I suddenly found myself in a circle of friends where everyone was keen on the future. After the semester abroad, during which I also met my current girlfriend, I went abroad for my master's degree and joined McKinsey. From my point of view, to study in Cologne was by far the most formative phase in my life.

Please complete the sentence: When I think back to my time in Cologne, I think of...
A first-class carnival, legendary WG parties and long days in the VWLer-Bib (The economics library of our school)

As an Alumnus, what advice would you share with current WiSo students?

1) Do internships: I've heard from many people "Internships are not a half or a whole." I think there is no better way to gain paid experience and learn which direction you want to go after your studies and which you don't. In addition, there are now countless jobs that list several internships as a prerequisite for applying.

2) Go abroad: I have long doubted whether it is "worth it" and finally went to China for 6 months. In retrospect, the best decision in my Bachelor's degree. You get a different view of the world when you drive through a suburb of Shanghai that is 10 times the size of Cologne, eat chicken feet in the cafeteria with your Chinese fellow students or try to learn a completely foreign language.

3) Ask questions: Whether with fellow students, professors, friends, distant acquaintances or mentors from the net like Speed Up Buddy: get tips and advice from others, share your thoughts. A concrete example: If you want to apply for an internship, but don't know anyone who works for this company, use LinkedIn. If someone there writes to me in a friendly way with specific questions, I always take the time to help where I can.




Interview: Ayla Wisselinck