Inaugural Cohort, Master of Family Therapy, San Diego Region
For many students, the path to college is paved by the example of their parents or grandparents. For first generation college graduates, like me, college is a path that must be created as you go. As a teenager, I had the goal to become a college graduate and often wondered if it was just a dream. My great-grandmother did not know how to read, write or count and my grandmother only attended the first grade. As I graduated high school, I did not know what tuition was and I remember searching the meaning of FAFSA. My parents supported me through my journey but also struggled to navigate a system that was new to them. While I faced the challenges of being a first-generation college student, my family supported me and learned with me. I soon realized that in obtaining a college education I was not only accomplishing my goal but the dream of the generations before me. At the same time, I was paving the way for the generations that will come after me. Today, I am a college graduate and so is my younger sister. Looking back, the courage and determination instilled in me are what inspired me to meet my goals. These qualities enabled me to turn my goals into reality and become the first person in my family to obtain a college education.
In the present, I wish my younger self knew there are people who want to help. Besides family, there are advisors, mentors, students and professors who provide valuable support. It is astonishing how many people are interested in the success of others and all you must do is ask for the help. I wish other first-generation students were aware of the amount of support the college community provides. I must acknowledge, that my experience in college was possible because of the people that explained what FAFSA was and defined tuition to my parents when I needed to enroll. Through my time in college I learned to accept the fear of the unknown. While seeing others be confident in living the college experience I struggled to understand if I was doing things correctly. I failed to understand that they had parents and possibly many generations before them who had done this before. As first-generation college students, we must acknowledge that it is acceptable to be afraid because we are doing something new and something that is unfamiliar to us. While at times it may feel like you do not belong in college, you must remind yourself of what got you there.
The most important thing to remember is that college may be hard, but it is worth it. Having a goal and vision for where you are going in makes it a bit easier. Learning to be a college student while you are a college student can be challenging itself and having a specific goal reminds you of where you are going. Lastly, as a student, I have learned of the importance to give yourself permission to ask for help and create your own path. It is acceptable to need help navigating college even for people who are not first-generation students. You are not the only person doing this for the first time and you are creating your unique path to a college education.