Last Updated: Aug 21, 2018
First in your family to go to college? You face many unique challenges, but there are a lot of positives and ways to alleviate the pressure you may feel!
Being one of the first people in your family to go to college is an entirely different process. You’re walking in blind, with no one else’s experience to reference or get advice from. Sure, there are plenty of interpretations of college in the media and the movies, but how accurate are they really?
Being a first-generation college student can make your first year even more nerve-wracking. The transition from high school to college is already stressful, but when you factor in not knowing what to expect, it can be terrifying. Applying for colleges and handling student loans are also foreign subjects, which can be especially challenging to deal with when you have no one who can help you file your applications and answer questions.
When you’re a first-generation student, you may feel some added pressure other students don’t experience. Your parents may press you to get a “real” degree, like Engineering, rather than something that interests you but is perceived to lead you away from the path to success. Your parents may also put on added pressure for you to do well in school. Your college experience may be highly publicized to your relatives, and coming home may mean being bombarded with questions about college. It may seem if you do poorly, you’ll let down your whole family.
If you go to college and realize it isn’t for you, this pressure may make it harder to discuss the situation and other struggles openly with your family. They may make you feel like dropping out or changing majors will disappoint them. You may feel forced to pursue a future that makes you unhappy, and that isn’t the answer. It’s important to remember that college is about your future, so you have to be mindful of the decisions you make and how they affect you. And if this pressure causes you stress, you should talk to your family and keep your parents updated with your progression and decisions.
Being a first-generation college student isn’t always scary though. Colleges offer many resources for students who are the first in their family to go to college. Diversity offices offer one-on-one meetings when you need support. Plus, counselors are always there to help (any students).
Often diversity offices on campus have specific programs for first-generation students to help with the already tricky transition. It may even be a good idea to connect with first-generation upperclassmen and receive their advice to help you through your first year. There are also clubs dedicated to first-generation students (whether they already exist or are waiting to be formed by you), where you can connect with other students who understand what you’re going through. This is a great way to make new friends and find support when the stress feels like it’s too much. Being around friends can even make the transition smoother.
It’s not unusual to struggle with the transition to college because it might seem like you’re in this alone. (You’re not!) If you’re still struggling or feel out of place during your college experience, colleges also offer counseling, which can ease the burden even more.
Specific scholarships for first-generation students can help lighten the load of freshman year too. There are multiple scholarship options open to first-generation students that will help reduce the costs of college and the need for student loans, which can be frightening to take on.
The transition from high school to college can be scary, especially as a first-generation student. But remember: as a first-gen, you aren’t struggling alone, and it isn’t shameful to ask for help. Don’t let the stress of freshman year get to you, and focus on yourself.
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