Overcoming Insecurity as a First Gen College Student

My suitcases were filled to the brim, three to be exact, all vastly surpassing the weight limit. With me, I brought all my belongings, perhaps too much, and an eagerness to begin a new stage of my life. 

I was entering a stage unfamiliar to my family and I: a traditional four year college experience. In a sense it is heartwarming; my father and I are both working towards our bachelor degrees at the same time. Although I would be lying if I did not mention that we have an ongoing bet as to who will obtain their degree first. 

Being the first in my family to attend a four year college, I did not know what to expect when I arrived at Kenyon. Moving across the country to an entirely new environment was a change for sure, but I had prepared myself for acclimating to rural Ohio, or as best as I could. 

I did not foresee the inadequacy and insecurity I would feel with regards to my family’s lack of higher education. I did not think it would make that much of a difference, because it should not impact my own education right? 

I was wrong. 

It slips in it and out of conversations, almost unnoticeable, a twinge of discomfort that resides and lingers heavily on my shoulders.

“My parents went to (insert highly prestigious and very expensive school)” conversations were aplenty, so much so that it began to feel like the norm. 

No, I cannot relate to your parent’s college experience and the advice they gave you. I cannot relate to the strenuous college process or multitude of college prep courses and counselors either. 

Applying to college was a foreign thing that I struggled with and somehow succeeded in without parental guidance or aid. College was something I desired to attend, so I relied on myself to make that dream a reality. 

I wasn’t ashamed of my dad for not having a college degree. Nor was I ashamed for being the first one in my family to go to college. But after hearing the circumstances of my peers, I began to cast doubt upon that pride. 

While my father may not have the same academic credentials, he has worked his way through tireless jobs to get himself where he is today. Juggling three kids as a single dad and working a full time job is no small feat. His accomplishments should hardly be diminished because of him not being able to frame a fancy and indebting piece of paper. 

I feel ashamed to have even briefly felt guilty about my relationship with higher education. My dad constantly reminds me of how he is proud of me, and yet this is how I treat him, filled with feelings of inadequacy? No, I am proud of being a first generation college student, even if many of my fellow students do not understand what that may constitute, or how it feels at a college like Kenyon. 

Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

I think we often get so wrapped up in our bubbles that we forget our life experiences are not always shared or universal. We may all attend the same college and reach the same destination, but our journeys are hardly the same.