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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Mizzou chapter.

College can be a challenging time for students. New environments, school work, and a newfound sense of independence can come with a lot of uncertainty. With the help of family members who have gone through the same experiences, students can be guided through these confusing times.

However, when a student is the first in their family to go to college, where can they find support?

A first-generation student is defined as a student whose parents did not complete a four-year degree at a college or university. 

This definition can also pertain to students who have not received support from a parent with a four-year degree from a college or university. 

According to First Generation at Mizzou, an estimated 25% of incoming students at the University of Missouri identify as a first-generation student. 

Being first-generation can often lead to an individual facing a unique set of challenges that students who have parents with a college education do not experience. 

Struggles Getting Acclimated

Many students have described their first year of college as an extreme learning curve where they not only have to navigate school aspects like classes and schedules, but their social life. 

For first-generation students, it can feel like there isn’t a space for them to exist in the college community and that other students know what they are doing while they are left in the dark. 

Britany Lopez is a first-generation Sophomore at the University of Missouri majoring in accounting. As the only one who attended college, navigating life at Mizzou proved more difficult than expected.

“I knew no one that had ever experienced college, so I had no one to really reach out to,” Lopez says. “Then coming here felt even more isolating because it felt like everyone kind of already knew where to go, or how to navigate college, or where things were and I just felt very isolated.“  

Without a parent who has experienced the stress of classes, tests, schedules and an often overbearing workload, first-generation students can feel out of the loop. They often face the beginning stressors of the college experience like applying for colleges, setting up FAFSA and even navigating dorm life without any support. 

There are many factors that come into play when an individual is thrown into the college atmosphere and it can be overwhelming. 

This can have dire consequences: if a student has no one to lean on during these challenges, it can drive them away from the college experience. 

“I know my first semester, I really considered leaving to go back home just because I didn’t feel like I was meeting enough people or enough good people,” Lopez says. “I wasn’t involving myself because I just felt so out of place. Last year was really hard, just because it was so new and so weird to me. I didn’t have anyone to rely on to be like, hey where should I start?”

Hillary Gonzalez SanDiego is another first-generation student who struggled with adjusting to college life. 

SanDiego is a Senior at the University of Missouri studying Spanish and linguistics while also receiving her Spanish teaching certificate. 

“It was a weird thing between being embarrassed and being just ashamed of not knowing what to do,” SanDiego said. “When you come from a community where you’re one of the first ones to go to college it’s such a big accomplishment and then you come here and you have to face the reality of ‘I truly don’t know what I’m doing here.’ — I didn’t know what I even got myself into.

Finding a Space in College

It’s important for first-generation students to feel that they have a place at their chosen university when facing these challenges –– a safe space they can turn to when things get hard. 

Clubs and student organizations can be a place where students can find individuals who share a common background or lived experiences. These spaces can be a vital support system when college life becomes difficult to navigate.

Both SanDiego and Lopez found solace in Sigma Lambda Gamma, a Latina-based sorority at the University of Missouri. 

“It[Sigma Lambda Gamma] was all girls with the same mindset as me,” Lopez says. “So I felt that was the first time I felt like I’m not the only one, I didn’t feel as isolated.”

The Sigma Lambda Gamma motto is “Culture is Pride, Pride is Success.” This rings true for the members of SLG. 

Culture, empowerment, and sisterhood are at the fundamental core of the organization and many have found a place of belonging there. 

“There are women who not only look like me, speak like me, and share my same experiences, but also who can support me and help me,” SanDiego says. “It was very helpful to have somebody you can trust and know that they won’t judge you for your ignorance.”

It’s Not The End of Their Stories

Being a first-generation student creates a unique set of challenges that can feel isolating. However, despite these many challenges, first-generation students have shown amazing resilience. 

It’s important for these students to know that there are resources available that can help them navigate college less isolating. 

It’s also important to recognize and utilize a support system. Student organizations, friends, family, professors, and university staff are here to help students and can guide students through challenges whether it be through academic resources or just someone to hear their struggles.

    Sarah Voyles

    Mizzou '22

    Hi! My name is Sarah Voyles and I am a Junior studying Journalism and Women's and Gender Studies at the University Of Missouri. In my free time you can normally find me crocheting while binge watching a tv show or gardening. I also love to hike, read, and travel with my friends!