First-gen Students: Advice on How to Make the Best of Your College Experience
There are some things in life that are more challenging for some than others, and for first-generation college students, that is college- and everything in-between. However, college doesn’t have to be a stressful experience for those who are the first in their family to attend. Keep reading for some tips from a first-generation college student and now, alumni, on how to make the best of your college experience!
When I began my journey as a first-generation college transfer student, I had no clue what I was stepping into; I didn’t know who to go to for help or what resources were available. I didn’t grow up hearing my parents’ college stories and when my time as a high school student was up, I was expected to attend college, but didn’t have anyone to help guide me through the application process. My first-generation experience is one that is shared by many others, but I am here to remind you that just because you are the first, does not mean you must go through it alone. From one first-generation college student to the next, here is my advice on how to make the best of your college experience: take advantage of your resources, get involved, know that you belong, and most importantly- have fun!
Take Advantage of your Resources: Seek Out Help
Whether you’re a first-year or a transfer student, knowing where to go for help is crucial for a smoother application process. The college application process can seem like a winding path with no end in sight, but with the right help it becomes a walk in the park. As a high school student, I was not aware of how high school counselors could help me, so I never sought out help. However, once in community college, I learned the importance of seeking a college counselor's guidance. Counselors- whether they are a high school, community college, or an admission counselor- are here to help guide you through the application process by ensuring that you have everything required by the school you are applying to. By obtaining a counselor’s guidance, a student is able to ensure they are on track to be a strong applicant by having all their requirements in order, such as: class requirements, transfer credits, test scores, and even letters of recommendation. Without a college counselor’s help, I would not have known that to have a smoother transfer into a four year university I could follow a transfer credit checklist, or that my top priority school was competitive and I would have to ensure my GPA was within the average range. By seeking out a counselor I facilitated my transfer into Santa Clara University.
Not only did my college counselor help me with the more detailed parts of my application process, but they also encouraged me to aim high in the schools I applied to and directed me to programs that would be of help. My counselor inspired me to be confident in my abilities as a student and reminded me that I was not alone in my academic journey. My experience at Santa Clara as a first-gen student was nothing short of amazing and that is due to the helpful counselors, professors, and staff. At Santa Clara, I felt a sense of community and knew I didn’t have to do everything alone, because everyone is so willing to lend a helping hand. As a first-gen student, I was a part of the LEAD Scholars Program, which is Santa Clara University’s first-generation college student support program which focuses on academic success and community engagement. Through the LEAD Scholars Program, I was able to take part in a fellowship, group activities, and receive academic and career support. Knowing what resources your school has to offer- and most importantly- taking advantage of them helps lessen the stress of college itself.
Get Involved- Have Fun!
The most important aspect of the college experience is engaging with your community. When you participate in student organizations you form a sense of community where your own voice is heard. Being involved in student organizations also allows you to expand your network and meet new people outside of your classes. First-generation students have a unique experience and point of view that must be shared- and what better way of doing that than with the student body population through organizations like Associated Student Government or the Santa Clara Community Action Program. At Santa Clara University there are over 170 student organizations where first-generation students can make an impact all while having a good time. Afterall, there is no better feeling than interacting with your community!
Know That You Belong
A common feeling amongst first-generation students- and one that I sometimes struggle with today- is that of imposter syndrome. The feeling of inadequacy, doubting your skills, or even downplaying your success are all effects of imposter syndrome. Battling this sneaky little feeling throughout my educational career, I’ve come to understand that as first-gens, we don’t have an even playing field to begin with, so why do we feel like we don’t deserve what we have accomplished? What I do in order to counteract these feelings when they come up is:
Practice self-compassion- extend yourself grace and space to feel and know that your best will look different everyday and that’s okay.
Celebrate your accomplishments- whenever you feel like you are unworthy of what you have achieved, look back at how far you have come and bask in it.
As first-gen. students, we have to work twice as hard to achieve our goals and our hard work is something we should be proud of. I’m here to remind you that you belong and your point of view is needed inside the classroom and out. Keeping this present will help you enjoy your college experience and will open up many opportunities for you to grow from!