This article was originally written for, now a part of

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: the college admissions process is one of those things that isn’t really understood until it’s experienced. With that being said, there’s one crucial thing that can be done in order to offset this lack of knowing what you (as a first generation student) are getting yourself into: That, of course, is building a support network that won’t falter or crack even as you find yourself being shaken.

As a first generation student heading into the process, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I don’t think any first generation student really ever does. I couldn’t ask my parents. I’d ask friends, but then again, the experience (as I came to discover for myself) is one of those subjective things that is different for every person.

As much as I wanted to believe that my family could help me, I knew they wouldn’t be able to. The territory I was entering was uncharted, not only for myself, but for them especially. I knew I’d have their support in whatever I chose to do, but I figured that wouldn’t really help me when I’d be faced with making decisions–big decisions at that.

The relationships that you form in your high school career are important because the people with whom you choose to develop those special friendships not only become lifelong friends. They also become lifelong mentors and people you can always look up to and turn to for advice when needed.

Luckily for me, I had several people I knew I could count on. They included my AVID teacher (a teacher that’s part of the college readiness program Advancement Via Individual Determination), and two of the best English teachers at my school. I met one during my freshman year and the next the following year. As soon as I figured out that they were the type of people who would challenge me beyond what I’d known as my “safe-zone,” I realized that not only would they help me grow into a college-ready student; more importantly, they’d be there to take the place of my family when my relatives wouldn’t be able to help me make decisions.

Without their help, I might have been able to get through the college application process, but it wouldn’t have been as thoroughly thought out as it was with their help.

Having adult mentors not only gives you someone to lean on; it also provides someone to give you a different perspective. I often found myself overlooking things I should have been considering when making decisions; but, luckily for me, because I asked my teachers for advice, they reminded me and redirected my attention back to the important things.

I would say it’s never too early to start forming friendships with teachers. Often, you’ll figure out which ones are suited to help you with your personal needs. And, many times (as all three of the aforementioned teachers did with me) these teachers become writers of letters of recommendation.

The key to remember here is that if you want your teachers to truly help you (and, eventually, write your letters of recommendation for either schools or scholarships), you have to be honest and open with them. If they don’t teach one of your classes one year, stop by their classroom to keep them updated on your endeavors as well as hardships. Ask them for advice, but always go to more than one source. This provides you with multiple perspectives and may make it easier for you to make a decision, because you will have the ability to weigh different choices against one another.

As you begin the admissions process, think about who has seen you grow the most, both personally and academically. It’s important to have these people by your side because in the months to follow, you’re surely going to need both their shoulder and their advice.

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