Weirdly enough, I recently finished up my first year of college at USC. As the summer rambles on, I often think about how I was feeling just one year ago. The passage of time last summer was catalyzed by excitement and fear, with the latter being more prominent. Aside from the prospect of going to school across the country, I had a fear of not fitting into the culture of a prestigious, affluent school as a first-generation college student and QuestBridge scholar.
So, for any USC '22 readers, hopefully, this will give you a bit of reassurance.
To the newest first-gen college students,
Let's just go ahead and get the uncomfortable truth out of the way: undergoing the transition to college life is challenging for everyone, even if the intensity of the challenge varies by person. With that in mind, there can be unique challenges ahead for low-income and/or first-generation college students. However these challenges manifest and however strong of a hand they play in your first-year experience, they're nothing a driven, intelligent, and capable student like you can't handle-- even if you're moving across the country to a university dubbed "The University of Spoiled Children."
On that note, please know that you will not feel left out of the social scene and culture of your school based solely on your socioeconomic status or background. In all likelihood, your wealthier classmates will not treat you any differently or respect you any less. That being said, it does no good to be judgemental of the students some might rudely deem the "spoiled children" of your college. After all, one of the main things you'll learn your freshman year is that the backgrounds and life experiences of the people you meet are wonderfully varied, meaning no person belongs to your school more than any other. Whether you can comfortably afford college or are barely scraping by, or whether you're a first-generation student or a legacy, you and your classmates have all worked hard. You've all taken advantage of whatever resources you grew up with to get to where you are. Simply knowing that each person has a unique journey should make you feel all the more proud of your own, however challenging or unexpected it might have been.
You'll gain a sense of security from your friends, your classes, your work-study job(s), and your extracurricular passions. I encourage you to apply for scholarships, as well as to utilize the academic, financial, career, and social resources provided by your school. Even if you can't go home for every break or go through school without taking loans, you can still work for opportunities to travel to conferences, go abroad, do fun activities off campus, or take extra units. When you're feeling overwhelmed by your options, talk to our family and friends from back home and remember what you did to get to where you are.
Above all else, know that you truly do deserve to be at your school and to have earned the opportunity of a lifetime. You're not there because of affirmative action, because you think the admissions committee needed to meet some sort of quota, or because you got lucky. Rather, you're there because you've dedicated your entire essence to improving yourself and your community and have showcased your unique voice throughout.
So, in the meantime, try not to stress and enjoy the rest of your summer. You're going to take freshman year by storm.
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