This article was originally written for FirstGenerationStudent.com, now a part of ImFirst.org.
Applying to colleges was by far the hardest part for me throughout my entire experience. There were endless possibilities in front of me, and the idea of being able to go anywhere and do anything was overwhelming. With so many different options—going far away or commuting, choosing a large school or a small school, studying near the city or somewhere rural—how could I possibly know where to start? The idea of finally moving away from home, being on my own and starting over from scratch was terrifying. Did I want to leave my family behind? Also, how could I possibly afford to go away? The bills were quickly adding up.
I come from a working-class family: my dad is a tow truck driver and my mom is a day care teacher. Not having financial support from my family felt like such a large setback. I learned that there is support out there for people like me; but, this also brought so much more work into the process, as well as so many questions that my parents just couldn’t answer. I felt that I had no one who could truly guide me through it all. Although my parents tried to help me every step of the way, together we would stare at the computer screen for hours in pure confusion. But finally, I figured it all out, submitted my applications and decoded the confusion of FAFSA. Now I was one step closer to becoming a real college student.
My parents walked around in pure chaos, trying to check in and find my dorm room. I was finally here and still had no idea what was going on. The concerns started swarming in: Was my roommate going to be some voodoo chick? What if she smells bad, or what if she hates me? This could possibly be the best or worst experience of my life. As it turned out, it was the best! My roommate and I hit it off from the second we met and we room together to this day. Everyone in my hallway was so much fun and I couldn’t wait to see how the rest of the year was going to turn out.
As the day came to an end, I heard my roommate’s parents giving her some last minute advice about how to handle college and what to do in class. My dad just hugged me and said “kick a**.” I was going in entirely blind. None of my family or friends had gone to college; everyone had stayed home and joined a trade. This was the big moment when I passed my parents’ education and started my own life, and the advice I got was “kick a**.” Well, that helps.
I did what the typical new kid does before their classes: I found every building and classroom ahead of time to avoid getting lost and being late. On the day of classes I checked my schedule a million times to make sure I wasn’t mixing up times or rooms. And, when I was finally in class, I was so nervous that I had somehow missed an email telling me that the classrooms had changed or would experience a similar fluke where I would have to walk out in embarrassment after class had already started. That was only one of my very many concerns. Am I allowed to write in pen or only in pencil? Is it like the movies where everyone uses a laptop or do students take traditional notes? Do I sit in the front or will people judge me to be a nerd? What is class going to be like: lecture or open discussion? What if I accidentally bought the wrong book?
I had so many unanswered questions and so much stress for, honestly, no reason at all. College classes were not as big and scary as I had always imagined. Teachers didn’t talk too fast and they would even repeat things when you asked. High school teachers always acted like college professors were these intimidating people who couldn’t care less if you couldn’t keep up with what they were saying or didn’t understand, but I quickly found that was far from the truth.
Finally, I had survived my first college class. I was now no different than anyone else there. I was a college student regardless of my past, and the hard part was over. I now belonged.
My advice to any first-generation student is to remember that you are not alone. There are plenty of people like us; although many people can’t understand the difficulties that we face regularly, we still did it. We made it to college just like any other kids whose parents did go to college and that goes to show that we are just as good as anyone else. We may face setbacks but we are all strong-willed people. We should be proud of where we come from.
Also, don’t be afraid to leave your family because you will make a new family at school. Get involved in sports and clubs, be active on campus and make the most of your time. These are the best years of our lives and we worked hard to get here. Don’t be afraid to ask “stupid” questions, don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to a stranger and, most importantly, don’t be afraid to be yourself.