The first generation college student often feels alone in navigating the processes and procedures of higher education. Here is some advice from staff at Academic Impressions who were first generation themselves. Share this with the students on your campus!
by the Staff at Academic Impressions
"My interest in higher education is a deeply personal one," our president at Academic Impressions, Amit Mrig, relates. "My family is here in this country because my father had an opportunity many years ago to come to this country and be afforded a scholarship. He didn't have any money, any resources to warrant that opportunity other than his intelligence and his hard work. In my mind, that is what the American dream is. Anyone who has the determination, the drive, and the intelligence should have an opportunity to move up the social ladder. The engine that drives that is higher education."
Today, November 8, is #CelebrateFirstGen Day. One of the amazing things about higher education in the U.S. is the doors it opens for families who have never been to college; our hope is that higher education will remain the engine of social mobility in this country. In that spirit, our team shares the following stories and advice for other first generation students:
Though I was technically half First Gen, I was raised mostly by my mother’s family, who had not gone to college.
Once I arrived on campus, I did everything I could to hide the fact that I didn’t know what I was doing. If I had embraced my First Gen identity and reached out to others, I wouldn’t have found those first couple of years so challenging!
I was a first-gen student, and I wasn’t even aware of what that meant while I was a student. As a result, I didn’t seek out first-gen scholarships or on-campus resources that I’m sure were available to me.
So my advice to all incoming students is to first of all familiarize yourself with the terminology of higher education.
Secondly, seek out resources that may be available to you. By doing so, you’ll meet some people who have had similar backgrounds/upbringing to you, and you may be surprised at the doors that are opened up in the process (scholarships, internships, tutoring/academic support, better sense of community, etc.).
I wasn’t first gen but due to some cultural dynamics, I was also not college-bound. It took me time in the real world before I figured out that I even wanted a college education. Here is something I wanted to tell my nieces, who are entering their first year of school and are full of anxiety over how hard it will be:
College is a time to start fresh. This clean slate can be exciting but also a little scary. If you don’t do well on your first assignments, it can often feel like you’re not doing well in college.
In fact, doing well in college means finding help, adjusting and balancing your study schedule, communicating with your professors when things aren’t clear, and forming and participating in study groups with your peers to support each other. If you “do well,” the grades will ultimately balance out. Don’t give up!
If I could go back in time, the advice I’d give myself is this: Find a staff mentor or peer ally the minute you walk into Summer Orientation or the first day of classes. There is so much ‘unknown’ on a college campus that you can hardly figure everything out on your own. So, building a trusting relationship with a staff member or a peer who seems confident navigating the campus will be extremely helpful for you to find resources, services, leadership opportunities, etc.
This relationship will not only help you cement your feet on a new campus but, it will also give you the confidence to trust yourself to navigate collegiate life on your own.
Like Elizabeth, I was half first gen. My mother had a college degree. My father was the first in his family to go to college, and he and I pursued our degrees simultaneously and helped each other figure out a lot of things along the way.
I was a commuter student (with a one hour commute from a rural area), so integration into a residential campus community wasn't on the table for me.
My background was very different from many other students', as well. I grew up milking goats, was homeschooled, and carried a two-meter ham radio instead of a cell phone.
I wish I'd known how powerful a relationship with a faculty mentor or academic advisor could be, or how many peers I had and how to connect with them. The first time I realized my campus had a writing center or tutoring lab was when I started looking for jobs on campus that I could do between classes to help pay tuition. I hadn't thought to ask, and I was raised in such a way that you do the hard work yourself and don't request help. I had to unlearn that. I was startled to find what resources were there, and I spent the second half of my undergraduate years tutoring other first-generation students, as well as international students.
So my advice is: Ask about resources. Find them, use them, then give back.
What Can You Do to Boost First Generation Student Success at Your Campus?
Here are some resources from Academic Impressions:
Retaining First-Generation Students: Strategies for the Classroom and Beyond
Bundle: 2 Webcast Recordings
Building Your Data Strategy to Improve Student Success Programs and Interventions
Conference | March 18 - 20, 2019 | Denver, CO