With more than 20% of the nation’s incoming freshmen being the first in their families to go to college, first generation students are finally becoming more of a commonality across campuses.
However, despite the ever-growing number of scholars, there is still a lack of awareness about transitioning into college as a first generation. The task is difficult for anyone, but can be especially daunting for undergraduates who have never been taught how to reach out to professors, or prepare for interviews. It’s never too late to start figuring out what your options are as a first-generation student!
Here are five pieces of advice I wish I was told on my first day of classes.
1. Resources Are There— You Just Have to Look For Them.
One of the most difficult things I’ve come to realize is that my parents have absolutely no idea what registering for classes is like, let alone finding and applying for internships. While us first-gen students watch roommates plan their next four years with parents, discussing their study abroad and internship options, we end up staring aimlessly at yet another episode of Parks and Rec. Although it’s easier to watch TV, try taking advantage of your school’s career center instead (even though Leslie Knope does offer great professional advice, too). The center is devoted to helping students find and apply for internships and jobs. Most will offer advice on how to prepare for interviews, and even how to dress professionally in the workplace. Advisors, too, can become a great resource— whenever you have a question about classes or majors, they’re only an email away. Set up an appointment, or figure out your advisor’s walk-in hours.
2. Having a Job Can Actually Enhance Your College Experience.
Most first-gen students at NYU have a job, some on-campus, some at restaurants in and around the city. No matter the location, having a job requires planning, time management, money for transportation, and communication skills. When your schedule starts filling up, and you realize working fifteen hours a week, on top of school, you notice that these skills were more important than you’d ever thought. Are we first-gens with jobs stressed out sometimes? Yes. But it feels good to know that, on top of the degree we’re working towards, we’re receiving a lesson in “real world” experiences.
3. Being Passionate is a Good Thing.
As you sit in class, did you notice the boy in front of you shopping for new Nikes on his laptop? What about the girl to your left, turning her sound off and subtitles on, and watching an episode of Friends? By the end of class, your hand is cramped from all the notes you’ve been taking. Instead, we wake up excited to go to class every morning, and can actually get pretty pissed off when our writing professor only keeps us for half the session. There’s something sort of magical about college classes for first-generation students. While those whose parents have gone to college check classes off a checklist, first-gens are oftentimes much more passionate about their classes. In the eyes of our professors, our work can really set us aside. Visit them during office hours, whether you’re struggling in a class or not. Let them know how passionate you are about their class. Not only will it probably help boost your grade, but you’ll find a mentor within somebody academically experienced and engaged. Having that positive role model in your life will do wonders for you, both mentally and academically.
4. Embrace Your Role.
Being the first one to go to college in your family can put a lot of pressure on you—from your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Oftentimes, you may feel that, if you don’t major in something “good enough,” none of their sacrifices will have been worth it. Moping around and living in a state of constant anxiety isn’t how anyone should be spending their first year of college! Rather than wallowing in self-pity, embrace your role. You’re setting an example for younger siblings and cousins, and providing perspectives to your non-first-gen friends about life without alumni dinners and tailgates at your parents’ alma mater.
5. Understand You Are Not Inadequate.
Undoubtedly, the most pressing issue a first-generation student faces is feeling isolated from our peers. We are different, there is no way to ignore that. But this difference does not mean we are less intelligent, less capable of a high GPA, or less suited for a well-paying job, after graduation. At times, it feels as if, because of our parents not attending college, we won’t be able to complete our four years, or that it would be easier for us to find a job if we had “connections.” No matter what, though, at the end of the day, we got into this school, too. If the admissions officers hadn’t seen something great in us, they would have never sent us that acceptance letter. We deserve to be setting this example for our future families, too.