I consider myself lucky to have a family that encouraged me to apply for and attend college. Although the process was difficult because I had to do everything on my own with little to no assistance, I was still able to send applications to the Universities I was interested in. I was not sure whether or not I would be accepted, but it didn’t seem like there was any other option. To me, I knew I had to go to college to break the cycle of my environment. I had to get out and explore the world and college was that metaphoric ticket “out”. It was and still is important to me to break generational trends. I come from a community where people do not go too far both geographically and educationally. If girls do attend college it is only as a backup plan, their degrees are to be pushed aside once they settle and have a family. I wanted to change that standard and I knew I wanted to attend a school that would foster my spirit as an activist and a change maker.
The burning desire within me to leave and break out of this mold helped me choose Rutgers. Not only was it known to have several strong women’s leadership programs, it also had a women’s college. Through its many programs Rutgers prides itself on its student involvement within the community and its history of change-making alumni such as Paul Robeson and Elizabeth Warren. Although I was accepted to many schools I ultimately decided that Rutgers was the best fit for me. Not only was it the most affordable option and the closest to home, it felt very familiar when I visited during new student orientation. Choosing to attend Rutgers University and enrolling in Douglass Residential College were the easiest choices to make for what was yet to come.
I remember the confusion I felt during my first few weeks at Rutgers. I did not know what to do following the acceptance letter. I frantically tried to sign up for placement exams, new student orientation, academic planning and advising and tried to balance meeting new people and becoming acclimated to the general environment. After everything was finally settled thanks to the help of some of my highschool friends who also chose to attend Rutgers, the first day of classes finally arrived.
Initially, the separation from the community I grew up in felt freeing and I was excited to see what was in store. But reality soon jolted me awake and I realized that I had no idea where my classes were and I didn’t even know what classes I was taking. I wasn’t aware of the online systems available to me or of any of the resources. My fear quickly turned to embarrassment as I tried to mask my ignorance. Now that I think back at it I’m not exactly sure why I was so embarrassed to ask for help. I now know that I could have greatly benefitted if I sought assistance earlier, but in the moment I felt like a failure for simply not knowing things. I was so used to doing things on my own without anyone’s help and suddenly that did not cut it anymore. I had to sign up for tutoring and accept that certain things academically will not just “come to me” over time. I was really truly on my own.
One of the many challenges I had to overcome was deciding whether I wanted to continue attending college. I had reached a point where I was not doing well in most of my classes, I was on financial hold, and I missed my family and friends back home. Is it worth it to stay here? I would wonder as I felt like the world was closing in on me. One day by complete coincidence I was introduced to SSS also known as Student Support Services. My friend who was also a part of EOF had suggested that I sign up for advising from them. Once I went into a meeting, I shared all my anxieties and fears with my designated advisor. “I don’t know why I’m still in school I want to go home,” I explained. My advisor, Christina, patiently heard me out and then asked me why I was in college in the first place as well as what being the first in my family to attend college meant to me. She helped me reevaluate why I was pursuing a degree and helped me navigate my struggles here on campus. I was reminded why I chose to go to college in the first place: to gain the resources I needed to be the change I wished to see in the world. I just needed a little guidance to get there. If it was not for that meeting with the advisor from SSS I’m not sure if I would have made it to senior year.
Looking back now, my biggest trouble with college was simply not knowing. I was unaware of the opportunities present, unaware of my capabilities, and unaware of what options I had regarding the future. My advice for other first generation college students who feel like they are in the same boat is to be proactive! Reach out to SSS, RU1st, and SAEE. Find a specific office/person you can connect with, seek out resources. I personally reached out to SSS and found my niche within Rutgers. Be open minded! College is a journey that changes your life forever, so don’t be afraid to explore different options and what works for you!