I consider myself a first-generation college student. My mom went through a two-year program to get her associates when I was in high school and completed it just this past December. But I am the first person in my family to go away to college right after high school. And let me tell you: without having any family members to support me through this time, it was hard.
I really rely on my family for knowledge of future events. High school? My grandmother, mom, and two aunts had all been through it before, as well as two of my older cousins. First boyfriend? Yep, I was behind of that wagon by a few years, but they have all the advice in the world to give me. So when I set off to go to college without their wisdom and guidance, I was pretty terrified. I felt so alone because I didn’t know anyone in the same situation as me. Truth is, I didn’t have to be.
College has been one of the best things I have ever done. Going to college, living in the dorms, pushing myself both academically and socially…I have grown so much as a person. It’s hard to believe that two years ago I was so scared to go an hour away from my home to be at this wonderful place. Because I didn’t know what to expect, besides harder classes and more time studying, I was kind of winging it. And for me, a person who plans everything out to the last detail when she’s anxious about something, that was a lot more worry than it needed to be.
With growth comes learning. I am so happy to be able to share what I have learned as a first-generation college student with you. I hope that in some way it is able to help you as you navigate your years in college to come!
It will all be okay
I don’t know how many times a day I say this to myself or others. At the end of the day, week, month, or year, life will be okay. That thing that you’re worried about right now? It will either turn out as planned, or go somewhere completely different. In the end, you’ll appreciate the journey if it goes your way or takes you on a roller coaster. Try not to stress too much over heading to school or what to do when you get there.
If you don’t need all the financial aid, don’t take it
My freshman year I took out all I could from the loans that I was allowed. This was really overkill and at the end of the year I still had a lot of extra. You will save yourself money and headaches later if you take out the least amount now and have a part-time job to make up the rest of what you need throughout the school year.
Get a part-time job
Yes, even if you don’t really need the money. It’s a great resume builder and shows employers that you have the perseverance to work through one of the most stressful four years of your life. Plus a few extra dollars never hurt anyone, especially a poor college student.
As a freshman, you’ll be on campus a lot. Try to spend a few hours a week away from it and volunteer. This is also a great resume builder and it allows you to give back to your community. This past summer, I worked full time and often did not have time on the weekends to volunteer, and I felt so bad about it. I wanted to give my time to help others, and this comes from doing community service in the past. Find something that you enjoy, whether it be reading or handy work or animals, and find someplace to volunteer that you will both enjoy and help out the locals.
Join a club or three
If I could choose one piece of advice to give every freshmen, this would be it. Joining one club in high school changed my life. It gave me direction and purpose, and helped me build relationships that I keep to this day. So when I got to college, joining clubs was at the top of my to-do list. Clubs are so good for you to find people with similar interests and foster those relationships into friendships. They also allow you to take your mind off of studying or work or whatever might be stressing you out to go have fun for a bit and remember that life is short.
Some people may not understand why you are going to school
Some of my family members think I am crazy for paying thousands of dollars a year to work my butt off at school. And while sometimes I don’t blame them, I also know that to get where I want to be in life, this is how I’m going to get there. Especially now in this day and age, a college degree is almost necessary.
Be prepared to answer a million questions on your breaks home
Every family member asks me the same questions on Thanksgiving, Winter, and Spring breaks. ‘How’s school? How are you doing? What’s it like? What are your classes? What do you do in those classes?…’ This list continues. And just about every family member will ask you these questions. Separately. Just enjoy the attention and know that they care about you and how you’re doing.
Your mom is a phone call away
There was this one time, I called my mom very upset, and my sister answered. She asked what was wrong, so I told her, and her response was, “Well, I don’t know what to do.” My very snarky reply was, “Well, that’s why I called Mom.” I have no idea how many times I called my mom my freshman year. I was constantly texting her with questions too. Just the other day, I asked her how I was supposed to know my oven was done preheating without a preheating light. She’s my mom, and I don’t know what I’d do without her guidance and question-answering abilities.
Classes don’t have to be that hard
Attend class, take good notes, do your assignments, read the chapters, and make flashcards for your tests. In high school I was taught, “For every hour you spend in class, you should be spending two outside of it studying.” For me, that’s at least six hours a week per class, on top of work and being apart of and heavily involved in two organizations on campus. I can’t do it. So I spend more quality time with my work in order to reduce the quantity of time. If you are having difficulties, seek out help. Campuses have so many resources nowadays to help students succeed that it’s silly to struggle by yourself.
What’s one thing you would like to know about college?