As a first-generation college student, I was very scared. I didn’t know much about student loans or even about the workload to expect in a college class. What scared me most was that I felt like I had no one to talk to because my parents had never gone to college. Everything I learned came by trial-and-error. Therefore, here’s my advice for first-generation students that I learned from making many, many mistakes.

LOOK AT TOTAL COSTS

When choosing a school, I didn’t really realize how expensive tuition is. I didn’t immediately understand that four years of college would cost me up to $75,000. In addition to that, I still had to buy textbooks and train/bus passes. If you’re going to school far away from home, it’s also important to think about how much your dorm/apartment/housing is going to cost you. So, make sure to think about how much money school will cost and where you are going to get that money from. 

LOANS

When learning about student loans, make sure you understand what subsidized vs. unsubsidized means. This website can help you understand the two better. I personally never got much money from FAFSA. As a result, I had to rely on private loan lending services. It’s very important to be careful with private loan lending services because you can quickly end up repaying a lot more than you borrowed. Make sure to variable and fixed rates and figure out how you plan to repay the loans you borrowed.

EMAIL COUNSELORS AND ADVISORS BEFORE SCHOOL STARTS

You usually register for courses the semester before you start school. This allows you to meet your counselors and advisors. Something I did was email my advisors throughout the summer. I asked them about course scheduling and they helped me understand what general education classes are, how many credits I need to graduate, and how to divide up my semester. I truly credit my first college advisor for helping me feel just a little more prepared about going to college.

APPLY FOR SCHOLARSHIPS

Something I didn’t realize until it was too late is that there are lots of scholarships for first-generation college students. You can get a couple thousand dollars from these scholarships and I really regret missing out on these. I highly recommend you speak with a high school advisor and ask about the scholarship! Scholarships are great because it’s money you get that you don’t have to worry about paying back, like loans. 

GET INVOLVED

Something I regret is not getting involved on campus until my sophomore year. I feel like this is especially important as a first-generation student because I already felt so out of place. My freshman year, I would simply go to class and then go home right after I was done. I didn’t really feel like I fit in at school because I didn’t make an effort to fit in. My sophomore year, I started volunteering, tutoring, and getting involved. I met so many people through this and learned that so many students were first-generation like me! So, I highly recommend finding someway to get involved, even if it’s just being part of one extracurricular.

TALK TO YOUR PROFESSORS/INSTRUCTORS/TA’S

Your first week of college, don’t be afraid to reach out to your professors, instructors, or even your TA’s. I was surprised to learn how many of my instructors were first-generation students themselves. The great thing about connecting with them was that they understood what I was going through because they were in my position once too. Knowing that there is someone out there that understands your position makes the process a lot easier. 

YOUR PARENTS AND FAMILY MIGHT NOT
UNDERSTAND CERTAIN ASPECTS OF SCHOOL

Something I quickly realized after going to college was that my parents didn’t understand the difficulty of having to juggle all my new responsibilities. In their eyes, it was like I was still in high school. I’m grateful for all that my parents have done for me but it was very frustrating to not be able to relate to them how hard college was in the beginning. I was sleep deprived, stressed, and overworked. So, don’t become angry with your parents if they don’t understand how much anxiety college is causing you. You can try to explain what you’re going through but also realize that, while your parents might not have gone to school, they sacrificed so much in order to send you to school and that’s something you may never be able to relate to yourself.

DON’T OVEREXERT YOURSELF

One of my biggest mistakes was trying to get a month of school work done in a week. Whenever I looked at a syllabus, I failed to realize that I have 15 weeks to learn the material. Instead, I tried to squeeze it all into the first month of college. In addition to this, I was also trying to juggle a job, which was a pretty terrible decision. Why some students may need a job in order to be able to attend college, if you don’t necessarily need one, I would recommend trying to take it easy. First, try to figure out a schedule. Time how long it takes you to do homework or study for an exam. Also, make sure that you’re still including a little bit of free time in your schedule. This way, you can see how many hours you can work without destroying your mental state. Another option is to look into work study opportunities on campus.

I try to follow a lot of this advice myself. While I was a nervous wreck my freshman year, implementing these steps into my life has allowed me to not just calm down, but to actually enjoy college (although there are some times when I wish I could drop out). So while being a first-generation college student may feel lonely at times, know you’re not actually alone. There’s plenty of first-generation college students in today’s society, you just have to put yourself out there and meet them.

Future Institute strives to provide as much support and as many resources as possible to first-generation college students. Check out the rest of the website to learn more about what we do!

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