Opinion: Finding success as a first-generation college student
Going to college is scary.
Moving out of the only home you’ve ever known, finding a new support system, dealing with the increase in expectations and responsibilities, navigating each professor’s procedures, adjusting to a new city and the dreaded “freshman fifteen.” All absolutely terrifying.
These are the kind of things that make you want to call your mom.
But for first generation students like myself, those phone calls home rarely include more than, “I’m sorry you’re going through this. I love you, and I’m proud of you.”
This is uncharted territory for all of us.
To give some context, I am the child of two loving, sacrificing, supportive and brilliant parents. They just didn’t go to college for a variety of personal reasons. Anything my parents may lack in traditional “book smarts,” they easily make up for with their talents and hardworking spirits.
I, however, tend to thrive in a school environment. For some reason, the classroom and I have always been a dynamic pairing. In high school, I found a sense of belonging in my overachieving friend group and a sense of purpose in my long list of extracurriculars.
But even then, I still felt slightly less-than because of a piece of paper my parents never received.
I distinctly remember the night my parents admitted they couldn’t help me with my math homework anymore.
I remember leaving the house to take my first college entrance exam with 12 No. 2 pencils shaking in my hand because that’s what Google told me I needed.
I definitely remember a rejection letter or two.
But I also remember opening acceptance letters.
I remember tight hugs and celebratory dinners and my dad tearing up when he told me how proud he was of me.
I remember beaming from ear to ear, loading my life into a truck while tears streamed down my face, thinking, “I’m actually doing this thing!”
Being a first generation student is by no means an indicator of academic performance. It just means there are a few more things we have to figure out on our own — usually through trial and error — to level the playing field.
There are still days when the voice in my head tells me I don’t belong here. It seems like every person here is the child of a doctor or lawyer or industry insider.
They’ve grown up knowing insider information on achieving success, and I’m stuck looking up the difference between FAFSA and FERPA.
In those moments of self-doubt, I just look to the quality of work I’m producing and the incredible support system I’ve been lucky enough to weave together.
I remind myself that I am here, I am valid and I deserve this.
There is nowhere else I’d rather be and no limit to what I can achieve if I work hard enough.
Fellow first-gens: We can do this.