A first-generation student is a student who is the first of their family to go to college. My parents do not hold college degrees, but I am actively pursuing mine. As I finish up the end of my first year at college, here is what I learned, and what I wish I knew beforehand.
1. The application process is the hardest part.
I remember applying to college. Looking for schools was difficult, because I was not even sure what to look for in colleges at first. Deciding on a major, touring schools, filling out the dreaded FAFSA, and actually applying is quite the workload when both you and your parents are learning. But between the internet and your high school counselors, there are plenty of resources at your fingertips that will help you through the process.
2. Your college decision might be based on finances, and that's fine.
There are some schools I did not even apply to because I knew I would not be able to afford the tuition or travel expenses. While I was applying, I was resentful that I did not get to branch out and apply to schools far away because I knew there was no way I could afford that travel. But I am so so so happy I ended up at Temple University.
It is a great value for a great education, and I made a new home here that I would not trade for the world. A year ago, I was angry that I would be selling myself short at Temple, but I am flourishing, despite my financial limitations, and so many others at my school share similar stories. Which brings me to my next point...
3. You are not alone, no matter how lonely you may feel sometimes.
Most of my friends, both at college and at home, are not first generation. There are a lot of issues I face that they just cannot understand, but that is okay. I took a First Generation Student seminar my first semester at Temple, and there I found a community of peers dealing with the same issues I was.
That alone was a weekly reminder that yes, I can do this, despite the confusion and the stress, because so many others are doing it as well. No matter what school you go to, there are other first-generation students dealing with the same struggles as you, and you can all succeed in college.
4. Your relationship with your parents will change.
There are going to be some severe growing pains when you start college, especially if you attend a college out of your home state, like me. Your parents never went through college, so there may be a lot they do not understand what you are experiencing. There is a lot of independence that comes with college, and your parents might not understand that you are pressed for time, and you are so stressed because you just have so much homework on top of your extracurriculars and your part-time job and also taking care of your own housing and food for the first time.
It is a lot, and they know that, but they never experienced it, so they might be a little angry when you forget to make time to call them. But despite the new strains on your relationship, you are going to miss them, and thank them mentally every day for giving you the drive to succeed in college. And your parents are more proud of you than ever because you are epitomizing the American Dream to them.
5. You belong here.
I saved this point for last because it is one I am still learning myself. I spend days in doubt that I am just not good enough to be a college student. I cried when I saw my first college acceptance letter, my Dean's List letter, and my honors program acceptance letter, because no matter how well I do, I still instinctually feel that I do not belong as a college student.
I know, factually, that I am doing well, but the self-doubt sneaks in through every crack. I learned to use it as motivation, to show a society that systematically makes it more difficult for first-generation students to succeed, that I am completely capable of a successful career in college and beyond.
I used to be afraid to tell others I was a first-generation student, but now I say so with pride. It has given me a truly unique drive that makes me an incredible student. And if you are first generation, I encourage you to look at all your options, even if it is not college. But just do not let any of your self-doubt sell yourself short. You are capable, and you are not alone.