College Prep: First Gen Edition

A Different World

First generation students are more than individuals who are first in a family to go to college. Many are academically talented, ethnically diverse, culturally rich newcomers to higher education. Others are ambitious, proud hard workers actualizing the hopes and dreams of generations. Collectively, each is focused on obtaining an education that will provide opportunities and prepare them to entire the workforce.

Along with all the new experiences and excitement found on campus comes real responsibilities. First gen students must oftentimes adapt their identity, upbringing, and socioeconomic status to a vastly different culture. Without a frame of reference from a trusted family member or friend, they navigate registration, financial aid, class schedules, syllabi, social hierarchies, and questionable cafeteria food. Learning how to correctly interpret the policies, procedures, and overall atmosphere of higher education is crucial to their success. Here is some general guidance for first generation students to help them avoid some common
pitfalls along the way to graduation.

1. Form a squad– Visit the Administration building or Student Union on campus. Make appointments with an academic advisor, career counselor, and student affairs professional. Use their varied levels of experience, training, resources and exposure to your advantage. Grasp that a one size fits all approach does not apply in college. Make educated choices from the information you collect from multiple sources.

2. Vocalize your needs– Asking for help does not mean you’re weak, unprepared or undeserving of a college education. You belong there. Most college and universities now provide student support services. Sit with a financial aid counselor and be clear about how much getting an education will cost you. Visit all of the different offices on campus until you fully understand how your housing, food, mental and physical health needs will be met. Be your own best advocate.

3. Build relationships– As a first gen student, you may feel like you’re carrying the future of your family all by yourself. That is not true. Faculty and staff are there to assist you through the process. Engage with them outside of the lecture halls, science labs, and art studios. Request time during office hours or ask if it’s ok to join them over coffee or lunch. Use that one on one time for them to know you better and vice versa. Get course recommendations, discuss your career options, learn how they picked their majors. Ask thoughtful questions and get the answers you need. It’s okay to be transparent and vulnerable with respected members of the campus community.

4. Leave your comfort zone– You may have heard that college is a place for exploration and discovery. With context and reason, that is true. Expand your horizons beyond a small social circle. Don’t allow imposter syndrome to make you pass on opportunities to get involved on campus. Run for office in student organizations, join an honor society, pledge a fraternity or sorority, try out for a team, or volunteer with a civic minded group. The point is, mastering how to network is a crucial part of your success during and after college. Your associations and friendships with a diverse group of people may set you up for a plum leadership position, competitive summer internship or dream job.

5. Live boldly– Select a major you love and be passionate about it. College is where you are able to bring energy and excitement to the choices you make. Be your most authentic self and have the discipline to avoid mediocrity. Use every setback, disappointment and mistake to learn what your limits or boundaries are. Form new habits that help you to have a strong work ethic. Moreover, respect yourself and others while you keep moving forward fearlessly.

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