I am the first one in my immediate family to attend a 4-year college and graduate. In high school, my parents encouraged my siblings and me to get our diplomas and follow our dreams no matter what they were. However, college was a concept not particularly discussed in our household, so it came to no surprise that I did not give it much thought as a freshmen in high school. It was not until my junior year that I began to think about college and where to go.
Back then, I worried more about where all of my classmates were thinking of going rather than what institution fit my needs. I can recall attending a college fair and listened to the admissions representatives talk highly about each and every one of the programs their colleges offered. It was that evening that I made a decision to research and set a goal to go to college. 4 years later I walked across my university’s stage with a deep, profound feeling of accomplishment that I will cherish for the rest of my life. There were challenges that came my way but ultimately it was overcoming the hardships that helped me cross that finish line. So how did I survive and thrive as a first-generation college student?
I knew that I needed to take my classes seriously but I learned this the hard way my freshmen year during the much-anticipated “finals week.” Like any other freshmen, I was surprised by all the catching up I had to do in order to keep my grades above hot water. All of the stress in juggling my course load could have been avoided by prioritizing classes earlier on in my academic career. I learned to manage my time wisely and used the library as a place to develop my study habits. I also learned to treat each and every class as equally important as the next. I discovered that asking your professor questions is completely acceptable, this is how I built relationships with them for years to come. Who knows, your philosophy professor might give you enough extra credit points to bump up your B to an A right before finals week if you talk to him about needing help. Stay on the same page as your academic advisor to help you be on track for your degree. The earlier you can enroll for the classes you need, the better. It’s one less stress to worry about.
They say that you meet your life-long friends in college and it happened to me. I found a support system in the most unexpected of places. I attended almost all of the events coordinated by Student Life and made friends with people I met for the first time. I didn’t know anyone at my college coming in and only met my roommate on our first day. My family lived 4 hours away, so I knew that if I were to stay sane and motivated I had to make adjustments and get out of my comfort zone. My friends comforted me when I was feeling homesick and were there to bring me snacks when I was busy studying and skipped out on meals. We held late-night study sessions filled with reading notes over and over again and quizzing each other with flashcards. These were the nights that turned into mornings. To this day I appreciate the friendships I made. Aside from students, I have also kept in touch with my former professors and work study supervisors. These are the very people who continued to provide me the encouragement I needed to get me through college.
I did not have a job prior to starting college. It wasn’t until I sat down with a financial aid counselor that I realized all the expenses that come with tuition, room and board, books and more. The overwhelming feeling of knowing that I could not afford it all made me cry at my counselor’s desk. Instead of kicking out a hysterical incoming freshman, she handed me a box of Kleenex and told me that we were going to figure it out. In fact, I found out that I was eligible for financial aid, federal grants and academic scholarships which I used to my advantage. I was also approved for student employment so I applied to as many as 3 work study positions and helped with my finances. Between classes, I was a Career Resource Assistant and mail room attendant and by night I called alumni to update our contact directory and asked for donations. I learned a valuable lesson in enhancing my time management skills and being able to afford to stay in college.
Being the first person in my family to attend a 4-year college had its challenges, but I also had rewarding experiences. All of the hard work and effort I put in gave me the confidence I did not know I had. I now see the world from a different perspective and know that if I set a goal I can achieve it. I did not do it all on my own and owe much of my success to my support system. In fact, I am currently working on my Master’s degree and thank the survival skills I learned during undergrad which is enhancing my study habits now. So if you are a first-generation college student, don’t hesitate to pursue your education, get out of your comfort zone and find the support needed to get through it. I survived and so can you.