What It's Like To Be A First-Generation College Student
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Politics and Activism

What It's Like To Be A First-Generation College Student

Although transitioning to college is difficult for all students and families, it is an especially difficult transition for first-gen students.

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What It's Like To Be A First-Generation College Student
Nohely Peraza

Just a few days ago, I moved into my dorm room at Williams College. I had the opportunity to move in early as part of an orientation for first-generation college students. In arriving, I felt that all of my hard work had paid off. It finally hit me that not only had I made it to the best liberal arts college in the country, but I was the first in my family to even reach higher education.

Being first-gen is an important aspect of my identity. I was raised by a single mother who never went to school. Growing up, she instilled in me the value of attaining an education and attending college. She knew of few young individuals who made it to college. She feared I would fall into the harmful vices of the youth in my community, so she would always encourage me and pray for me to have a better future. The majority of students at my high school were first-gen and low-income. Going off to Williams not only fulfilled one of my and my mother’s life-long goals, but was also a source of pride for my community.

The transition into college is not an easy one for me, however. Although starting college can be challenging for all students and families, as the first in the family to go to college, it is an especially difficult transition emotionally and it takes a lot of effort to convey aspects of what college entails to family. It is hard to explain academic terms such as essays, research, mid-terms, finals, and more. It is also difficult to explain cultural and identity pressures that arise in college with my identity as a Latina and a first-generation college student.

I always knew I wanted to go far away for college because being away from home would allow me to explore a new place and have experiences I would not have had if I stayed local. My mom initially didn’t understand why I wanted to be so far away from home. Being first-gen, going away to college can seem like a separation from family. I know that my mom is happy for me, but at the same time she is sad about leaving her daughter across the country in a place she knows little about. I have dealt with guilt in deciding to go so far away from home.

Williams was my dream school and getting in was a great personal accomplishment. Expecting familial support when I received the news and was making a final college decision, I was hit with, “That is so far. Why not go to the local state school? You would still be getting a degree.”

There are many aspects of the transition that parents will culturally and fundamentally not understand. It is my responsibility to bridge the gap of understanding and ensure that my mother feels less worried about me.

Keeping in touch is another challenge I am hoping to work out. My mom works two jobs. Her day begins at 4 am and ends at 10 pm. I have to find breaks and take advantage of her days off to call home. There is also the three-hour time difference to take into account. If I don’t call as often, it is either because she is working or I am too busy. My goal is to figure out a schedule that will work best for me to call.

Going through the college application process was difficult because I had to fill everything out myself. Financial papers, tax information, anything meant for parents to complete I did because I had always filled out applications, made resumes, paid bills, etc. I understood more than she did and she held me accountable for passing on important information.

At one point, I recall crying because I was frustrated with financial aid. I knew the situation would be resolved, but I was crying due to built-up stress. My mother told me that if college would be too hard and stressful, I could stay home and figure it out because others have made it without graduating from college. It struck me that she told me this because I felt I had worked too hard to quit only because I got slightly frustrated with a financial aid issue that would be fixed. I wanted her to encourage me, but I realized that she wanted me to be happy above everything. I have her support no matter what I decide to do, as long as it is what is best for me.

Being the first in my family to go to college has made me realize that I have had so many resources to help me get to where I am today. I grew up in a place where making it to college is an oddity. I don’t want it to be this way. I have had so many resources in my life that have helped me make it to Williams. I want to be that same resource to others. My first-gen identity has shaped who I am and who I hope to become.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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