"Because no one understands the challenges we endure every day, we carry our own weight and we don't have the support we need to succeed," stated Willie Williams, a junior attending the University of Georgia.
A first-generation college student is one whose parents have not completed a bachelor's degree. They would be the first in their family to attend a four-year college or university and graduate with a bachelor's degree. In 2012 a study done by the National Center for Education Statistics found that 34 percent of students were first-generation college students and only 25 percent of those students attended a four-year institution. Like many other first-generation college students, Williams had to confront challenges that caused a gap in his future education, such as applying to colleges, financial stress and the lack of family support. For these students attending a university filled with students who have financial stability and support from their family creates a barrier in their academic success.
On May. 20, 2016, Willie Williams walked across the stage to receive his high school diploma. He had finally graduated from Rockdale County and was overwhelmed with emotions, Williams would be the first member in his family to attend a university to pursue a bachelor's degree. To Williams, the pressure of pursuing higher education was nothing compared to the daily challenges he faced during his journey to attend the University of Georgia.
Williams provides a lot of financial support for his family and expressed how he had to give up on sports to work two part-time jobs just to make ends meet. He states that he had tried to juggle sports, clubs, school, and work but it became a lot more than he could handle. His grades began to slip and he was not making enough money to pay the bills. According to a study done by Dupont in 2009, 60 percent of first-generation students must have a job in order to financially support themselves. Williams made a sacrifice that later influenced his college application process.
He expressed his concern about college admissions entry exams. How flawed they are and how they were made to create a separation between the lower and higher class. He jokingly stated that if he had the time and the money he would not be at UGA but in fact at an Ivy League Institution.
"College is for rich folks and poor kids who get lucky. I am not ashamed to say it but I am one of those poor kids who got lucky," said Williams.
Williams attends UGA with a few scholarships and the money he makes working at his part-time job. Unfortunately, life happens and some months are harder than others. Williams has a positive outlook on life and knows that he is helping his family in the long run but understands that he did the best he could with the life he was given. Williams does not ponder on the what-ifs because according to him that is how self-esteem issues and anxiety are born.
In two weeks Myles Dunn will be graduating from Carver Early College High School with a full-ride to Emory University. Unlike Williams, Dunn did not have to make any of those sacrifices.
"I was blessed to have the support and guidance of my family. I am lucky to be able to pursue a college education without having to worry about my financial needs," said Dunn.
Dunn was able to play varsity football, be the Student Government Association Class President and was able to complete over 1,000 hours of community service during his high school career.
Dunn is not a first-generation college student, his mother attended Clark Atlanta University and his father attended Georgia Southern University. He had the financial and emotional support during his college admissions process and was successfully accepted to 13 institutions. Dunn also expressed how much he dreaded going to SAT and ACT prep classes because it added a lot of unnecessary stress and it exaggerated the importance of the exams itself.
"You just had to learn the pattern of the questions and they were truly asking. I did not learn mathematical equations during my prep classes, I learned what to look for based on what they were asking, it went beyond the basic 2+2," said Dunn.
Not only did Dunn have the financial support to perform well on his standardized test but he had the help of mentors and counselors to help guide him when he did not know what essay to go with when it came time to submit the application. Dunn credits his mentors and his counselors with supporting him every step of the way. They were there for emotional support and were always a phone call away.
During the interviews, there were a lot of academic similarities in the characteristics and performance of both. William and Dunn graduated with a 4.0 GPA and scored a 33 on the ACT. Shockingly Williams did not apply to any other school because he did not know there were other options for him besides UGA. Williams was undermatched when he was applying to colleges. Undermatching is a term used when a well-qualified student, often from a high-risk environment household is not matched with a competitive college. In 2012 a study conducted by Caroline M. Hoxby and Christopher Avery found that 43% of the most talented potential applicants from low-income families never apply to competitive colleges.
Many low-income students do not have the guidance or financial support to apply to these prestigious intuitions. The average cost to apply to an institution is 50 dollars, and many do not have the option of applying to more than two schools. There is a financial barrier in the college admission process that creates an unjust and unfair system that favors the higher class. The college admission process also creates a barrier that favors students with the background of parents who attended college.
Many talented first-generation students are being undermatched and are not attending colleges that are providing them with the experience or resources suited for them. New York City has already created a program to help close that gap with a program called the Excelsior Scholarship. It allows middle-class New Yorkers to attend college tuition-free. There are a few eligibility requirements for students to meet in order to qualify. This program has allowed first-generation college students an opportunity to attend a college.
There are a few theories on why there is a flaw/gap in the college process for first-generation students, some say it's a financial based gap in which discourages students to apply to colleges that are more of a match for them. Other say it's the lack of resources that are offered to them during their application process. There is a gap and it needs to be fixed. If it's a change in the system itself or the number of recourses given to first-generation students, it needs to happen. It is time for the college admissions board to make changes and fix the broken system to give every student an equal opportunity.