Moving to college was one of the best yet most challenging days I can remember. Sure, I remember being excited to move into Calhoun Hall with my roommate, but after the first couple of weeks, that excitement phased out. You might be thinking "she probably didn't make friends right away" or "she didn't go out" or "didn't you know anyone before college"? The truth is that not everyone adjusts to college right away. Why you may ask? It is because I am a first-generation college student.
Lack of understanding
For some reason, that surprises people whenever I say that I am a first-gen student. I will never forget my first year, having issues adjusting to campus life and difficulties making friends. I'll never forget how many times I had to ask my RA for help even for the smallest things. The fall semester was full of memories. Once spring semester, everything kind of went down hill. The friends I thought I made weren't really my friends. We would complain to each other about out work and they would always respond with "Why don't you ask your parents what they took? Didn't your parents go to school?" Similar phrases like that were told to me and I often felt left out. One major issue is that people are quick to assume that we all had parents who went to college but that's not always the case. Not all of us learn what classes are easier than others for gen-ed requirements. Not all of us have the resources or awareness of what classes to take and which ones to avoid. We learn along the way and it's usually the hard way. That's something I do not take back at all.
The first year is always the most difficult year for first-gen students, but it is not because of financial need necessarily even though a lot of us could use that funding. Not all of us are getting our tuition paid for or are not on scholarship. That does not mean we aren't intelligent or have that drive. First-gen students are often at a disadvantage in terms of ACT/SAT test scores because we did not know how important those scores really were to financial aid. Some of us work two, three jobs just to make ends meet, but we still have to take out those student loans. While financial issues affect a majority of students, a lot of us first-gen students have to learn the hard way about filing the FAFSA, what documents we need for work study proof, how to apply for scholarships, and other related financial confusions.
My second year was my best year academically. My GPA went up, I started working on campus, and became one of the resident advisors on campus. If I did not break out of my introverted comfort zone and make a few friends, I don't think I would have had those opportunities. I did not know about the plentiful resources we have on campus such as The Wellness Center, Learning Assistance Center, or any of the other centers. I learned all about those resources when I became a resident advisor, but I wish I would have known how much our campus has to offer going into college.
All We Need Is Support
Honestly, some times it may not be the lack of money that may drive our GPAs and motivation a little lower. Really, first-generation students need support from faculty, peers, supervisors, and anyone they work with. Consistent reassurance and feedback really goes a long way. Knowing you take an interest in our successes and failures is critical. We want to work hard. We just need a chance to show that. Sometimes college becomes their only home. Just like home, you need all the support you can get at school even when you make really questionable decisions. Someone put some faith in you as our professors and mentors. That is all we ask as first-gen students and some guidance. We come in already with a disadvantage of the unknown territories of college, but we want to work hard to make it work and complete our degree(s).
After nearly five full semesters of memories, late nights sobbing, and insane amounts of work due in one day, coming into college as a first-gen student was one of the hardest things I have encountered in my life. With hard work and determination, I stayed in school even when I doubted myself. I have a long way to go, but I see a brighter future ahead.
First-gen students are willing and more than capable of succeeding. It just starts with a little bit of faith in us. If you are not a first-gen student, make an effort to get to know one of us before making assumptions. We just want to make the most out of it just like you.
Being first-gen means more than just being the first in my family to complete my degree and attend college. Being first-gen means that I am even more thankful for having the ability to pursue my education and for never taking anything for granted. I have worked as hard as I could to get to where I am because that's how my parents taught me to be growing up. If you work hard, you will make something of yourself. I am proud to be a first-generation student and you should be too.