3 Tips for First-Generation College Students

First in your family to go to college?

Have you ever wondered if college was right for you? I used to question if I was capable of graduating. No one in my family had graduated from a university and I was scared. But I was able to find my way and I want to help you!

Being the first in your immediate family to go to college has its challenges. Often, you may wonder if you have what it takes to do well in school. It will feel as if others around you have their whole life figured out while you’re continuing to adjust to your college campus. But we are resilient—and we are role models for future first-gen students. 

First-generation students face different challenges

According to the Center of First-Generation Student Success, “a higher percentage of first-generation than continuing-generation students used financial aid services, but lower percentages used health, academic advising, and academic support services.” These findings showcase that first-generation students know the importance of financial support to pay for college; however, there are a lot more challenges that happen when studying for a degree.

As a first-generation college graduate myself, I have a few consejitos (tips) to share with you to remind you how awesome you are.

1.  Navigate the imposter syndrome

From the moment I started community college till now, imposter syndrome has always stuck around. It has stopped me from applying to scholarships, programs, and visiting professors' office hours to ask for help and take feedback constructively. These are all essential resources that can make a difference in a student's academic success. That is why I strongly emphasize the importance of not allowing fear to get in the way of your trajectory. Once you get past the negative effects of imposter syndrome you will most likely feel more confident in your decision making when seeking support.

The best way I have been able to overcome my fear is by writing positive affirmations to myself in my journal. Quite honestly, I carry my journal everywhere just in case I ever need to visually see a reminder about how resilient I am. Also, celebrating small victories is important—like turning in an assignment on time or getting yourself your favorite coffee drink to start your day. 

2.  Utilize campus resources

As previously mentioned, financial aid services are one of the most-used resources for first-generation college students. Research shows that first-gen students tend to come from lower-income families. This can correlate to why first-gen students will gravitate more to finding financial support with urgency than other resources that are available on their campus. Trust me, I understand. I spent a majority of my undergrad working multiple part-time jobs while being a full-time student because if I wanted an education, I had to figure out how I was going to fund it on my own. However, there is more than the financial aspect that first-gen students need to succeed academically. Once I started utilizing the writing center to help me better my writing and professor office hours for clarification on class material, I felt supported as well as reassured that I was going to walk my graduation stage.

When I attended community college, I was in the writing center almost every week for my writing courses. It was a benefit for me to use this resource because I did not have strong writing skills and had trouble elaborating my thoughts onto paper. But the staff in the writing center guided me through my papers and I passed my classes with A’s. I learned the importance of asking for help from professors and college staff members that are there to help us reach academic success and graduate. 

3.  Build your support system

As a first-generation student, you are a role model. Once you start to build your network and experiences, you most likely will “pass the torch” to others who are trying to earn their education. Some examples of how I have been able to do this is by joining academic and community service clubs. It was important for me to be part of both so I could build my support system and professional experiences for my resume. It is important to join clubs and organizations on your college campus that genuinely catch your interest.

The clubs I joined led me to finding my friends who I was able to study with and spend time with for self-care. It’s the best way to network and have fun at the same time. To this day, my support system continues to be the friends I met in these clubs and my family.

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