My name is Adam and despite being a first generation college student, I just started the first year of my PhD at Yale University, studying conservation genetics and evolution.My mom has been working as a secretary for her entire life, the same job she had after high school that she started when she was 19. My parents divorced when I was an infant, so she raised me as a single mother.
I always knew that I wanted to go to college, but honestly I didn’t have very high expectations. I thought a state school and huge loans were the best I could hope for. On a whim I applied to a private school in Wisconsin called Northland College. When I got the decision letters back, Northland had offered me a huge scholarship.
My dad struggled with alcoholism his entire life and died unexpectedly not long before I heard back from schools. The little bit from his life insurance and the scholarship meant that an out-of-state private school was actually feasible.
I finished my bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies a year early and took a job in Alaska. Three years ago I decided to try to go to graduate school. I managed to cobble together enough scholarships, grants, and assistantships to get my Masters from University of Montana without having to take out loans.
I realized during my Masters that I love the challenge of discovering and understanding the intricacies of our world. So, I applied to PhD programs, and was literally breathless when Yale offered me a full ride.
For those of us without a model to see a trajectory past high school, the task of applying to, figuring out how to pay for, and surviving in college is an almost insurmountable challenge. You will feel lonely and lost. But don’t give up – the reward at the end extends long into your future and far surpasses the hardships. After all, in academics, every challenge is literally a learning opportunity. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. Universities are full of people who are invested in your future – call on them. And never let the perspective of others determine your success. Achieve exactly what you dream, and always know that you earned it.