Things they don’t tell you when you’re a first generation student

As a Howard student, I never thought being both first generation and low income would have such an impact on my college experience, but it has. Not a terrible one, but I will say, those who are both first generation AND low income get thrust into adulthood fairly quickly, whether you’re ready or not. At times it can be comical, dignifying because you’re “adulting”, but also flat out stressful. So here are some useful tips and realities I wish someone had told me about my freshman year at Howard.

 

You will face classism

In most instances when you experience classism, it will not always be directly. In fact most slick comments will be indirect and will probably come from people you’re friends with. I’ve sat in classes where suburban raised, middle class, students have said poor people don’t deserve children or to start families. I’ve overheard students mock those who couldn’t afford to continue their education. This kind of sentiment can be hurtful. The key is to remember that despite where you came from, you’re on a path to become more.

 

Learn how to fill out your fafsa

You know that funny picture of a young thug in the studio, intensely focused, captioned “me and my mom filling out fafsa”, that's real. As someone who was literally the first, even including older siblings, to have to fill out a fafsa, it can be confusing. A lot of parents are very private about their finances, even with their children, while others genuinely don’t know what they’re doing. To save from confusion and frustration, be prepared to take the lead on getting it done. 

 

You deserve to get lit too

I know I can't possibly be the only one who's ever felt some guilt about splurging on some food, or clothes, or a party, but honestly 9/10 it’s deserved. College is stressful and part of some people’s destressing methods include reality therapy. Also if you grew up poor, chances are you’re pretty good at saving, scrambling, and earning. Don’t cheat yourself out of certain experiences, or moments because you feel you don’t “deserve” or “need” it. Make a budget to spoil yourself. 

 

You may have to get a job

It got reaI when I got a job my sophomore year. I went from having an effortless 3.7 gpa my freshman year, to having to struggle for a 3.6 my sophomore year. To make matters worse, I was taking 18 credits, while balancing 16 hours of work every week. But it’s possible to juggle these things if you find a work-school balance perfect for you. 

 

Network 

For some people at my school, their network starts with their parents and whatever strings their parents can pull, or whatever doors their parents can guide them to. As someone whose parents never went to college, I couldn’t just call them up about issues or networking opportunities because it would be even harder for them to get me connected to who would be most beneficial. Don’t let being first generation scare you/stunt your chances of going after opportunities you want, just because you feel you aren’t as well “connected” enough. Most networking takes place in small social settings put yourself out there.

 

Reach out to other first gen/poor students

Not having poor/first generation friends AT ALL my freshman year left a huge gap I didn't realize needed to be filled until I met more students in my similar predicament. It was cool ranting to my friends, but since some of them didn’t come from a fairly similar background as me, they couldn’t really understand my problems or extend the support I needed. Find some friends you can relate to; friends who work and friends that hustle. Connect and support each other and know that what you’re doing is amazing.