COLUMN: First-generation college students feels


Bethany Hendren, Opinion Writer

I am a first-generation college student and it comes with many emotions, challenges and realizations. Until recently, I never understood why being a first-generation college student is many times categorized as important and a big deal. Throughout my two years at community college I did not give the idea much thought. However, since transfering to a university, my whole perception of being a first-generation college student has changed. Attending a four-year university feels great, but lonely at the same time. 

I have taken this big step essentially on my own. Doing that has been challenging and isolating from the lack of resources and support. I did not have a parent who could help me fill out college applications or financial aid. The counselors at my high school were too busy being invested in the students who were top of the class. Those things are important to mention because I remember my senior year of high school sitting at my kitchen table crying. The tears and frustration were flowing because I was so lost about filling out applications, submitting financial aid, how to get textbooks, signing up for orientation, etc. I had no idea how to do this and I was in it alone. My mom would listen, but she proved to be no help because she was just as confused as I was. 

Something like that might seem simple to some, but having a meltdown at my kitchen table stuck with me. I remember thinking that it should not be this hard. 

When I see peers supported and guided by their parents who have done this before it makes me realize even more that I lack support. It also makes me realize that I do not get to bond with my mom over college. I see families touring with their children, explaining their experience as they are now alumni, or hear peers speak about their parents/grandparents attending App State. All of that has taken me by surprise, because I never experienced something similar. 

All of these recent realizations made me see that there are not many resources for first-generation college students. I say this because it has made me passionate about how higher education needs to be accessible to everyone. College being such an obstacle to some keeps people from achieving it for their family, themselves and future generations to come. Not in all cases but in some, it keeps the poor people poor and uneducated, while the upper class and educated pass that along for generations to come. 

Being a first-generation college student has also made me feel like I do not belong where I am. Or that I am not worthy enough. Sometimes I compare myself to my peers who speak about having families that are educated. I was born into a family where my mom barely finished high school and my dad dropped out of high school, but then later obtained his GED in prison. My maternal grandma quit school around sixth to eighth grade. My maternal grandpa could not read or write. I know I am not defined by that, but in many cases children follow in their families’ footsteps. 

The feeling of not belonging results in this feeling of being an imposter, a feeling of self-doubt and a huge fear of failure. I want to achieve an advancement in my family on an educational level and probably an advancement at a socioeconomic level as a result of obtaining a degree. I know nobody is putting this huge pressure on me, but I have put it on myself. The pressure to be better, achieve more and make that change can be suffocating. 

Many people can relate to what I am saying and that is why I am writing this. However, you can get through it and you will. Some things I found helpful were FAFSA workshops, looking into college resources and actually utilizing them. I also made it a priority to attend events at the beginning of the semester to become familiar with the clubs and resources available to me. It is also a great help if you can befriend someone who went through the same experience you are currently going through. Do not be afraid to ask for help. It is hard not having parents to seek advice from, but people are happy to help and can definitely help guide you in the right direction. I cannot count all the phone calls and emails I made just to get the simple steps completed. 

I reflect on college as I am now a junior. I have not experienced the joyful moments that I have anticipated all of my life in college. The coming-of-age college scenes in movies are not accessible to me. I have felt more like college was an obstacle, rather than a celebration of growing up. There is a certain aspect of envy that comes with that. However, I feel proud to be a first-generation college student.