Throughout college, I never really thought about my identity as a first-generation student. Yes, I struggled when applying to universities on my own (I applied to 18). I struggled to choose a major that would make me happy as well as my parents and I definitely struggled to wrap my head around financial aid and students loans – but didn’t we all? Or at least that’s what I thought.
I didn’t realize how significant being a first-generation student was until I saw some of my peers roll their eyes about graduation, skip out on senior events and “forget” about senior portraits. Those small events are not only what I worked hard for but my whole support system did as well. I think any first-generation graduate can agree, this was not an independent effort but a whole team effort. It wasn’t just me graduating it was, us graduating.
Don’t take my word just my word on it, here are what some first generation alumni had to say.
When asked what being a first generation student meant to Gina Escandon, Beauty Editor at Her Campus, said, “I know first-hand that not everyone is able to attend college, which gives me the incentive to work extra hard. Every day of college, I treated as a gift, and I feel the same way about current job and all the opportunities I have. The sacrifices my family made are always at the forefront of my mind, so I don’t take anything for granted, and I always try to find unlimited potential in what I’ve been given.”
Every day of college, I treated as a gift, and I feel the same way about current job and all the opportunities I have.
Just like Gina, I felt like my college experience was something I had to treasure and never take for granted. Personally, this gave me an added amount of pressure to not only prove to myself that college was the right choice for me but also had to prove this to my family as well.
Gina continues to discuss the pressure first-generation students face when it’s time to look for a job after college. She explains the value of college by saying, ”It means everything, it’s so special. Internally within my family, it feels like I’ve achieved something extraordinary. It gives me a huge sense of pride – but also a lot of pressure also comes along with it because chasing success and new accomplishments doesn’t stop just when I finish college. I feel the need to continue working hard for my family and climbing the ladder in my industry. The college degree feels like a jumping off point to so many other opportunities and ways to make my parents proud. “
College is a privilege, and education is power. The value of a degree can play a huge role in a person’s identity whether they like it or not. Having an internal challenge amongst yourself is difficult. For a person that has always hated school but knows how important a higher education is, it can get challenging.
Sunny Khan a recent graduate of the University of Florida, spoke on just how important education is and explained, “I am not a school person. I hate systemized education. I hate that a portion of my grade is attendance and participation if my work that reflects my knowledge is 100%. However, in the world we live in, education is the most powerful weapon. So powerful that systems try so hard to keep people uneducated on purpose so being able to get a good education is truly a privilege and whether I wish I could go back and do it all over or not, I know that having a degree is a powerful weapon in this world.”
However, in the world we live in, education is the most powerful weapon.
Many people take education for granted by skipping school, cheating on exams and not putting all of their effort into their studies – but just think for a moment if you’re guilty of those things. What would life be like without your college diploma? Hard. Without your high school diploma? Even harder, and that’s the reality some individuals are faced with.
Transitioning out of college isn’t easy either. Which is what I’m currently realizing. Now that I’m trying to live my best post-grad life, I realized I’m missing a key part on navigating this crazy thing we call adulthood; a mentor. Since we’re being honest here as much as I prepared for the real world with internships and informational interviews I still find it hard to utilize my skills and put my best foot forward. Which is totally okay, but still a hindrance. Since my parents didn’t graduate college they aren’t familiar with industry standards or any other corporate standards.
When I asked Jeremiah Butler, a graduate of Thomas Jefferson University what resources he’d recommend for other first-gen students he had this to say, “Statistically, first-generation college students are disadvantaged, whether it be financial distress or less than desirable living conditions. I would try to make college the best experience, socially but also financially for them. A lot of first-gen students aren’t able to finish due to the costs of college and to make that burden lighter would help more people from different backgrounds graduate and go into the workforce with new ideas.”
If you’re a current student – creating a conversation focused on first-generation students and programs that could mentor them through the professional workplace, financially, and socially could increase involvement and inclusivity.
If you’re a first-generation alumnus I already know you are a dedicated, motivated, and driven individual. From the hardships, you’ve faced and the patience you’ve taken to learn and grow; you’re amazing.