As a first-generation college student, you are told time and time again about the importance of further education. College is seen as a necessary step for success and attending one is thus seen as a must. However, attending university is taking a huge leap into the unknown for first-gen students so it is not uncommon to experience some problems while getting adjusted to life as a college student. Here are some issues you may face when you are the first in your family to go off to college.
Not knowing what to expect as a college student
First-gen students don’t have family stories pertaining to college to look back on when they are trying to adapt to life on campus. Academics, dorm experiences, campus organizations, and the overall college experience are completely new to you, and it is really easy to get overwhelmed when you don’t know what expect from it all. Not to mention, you are more than likely going to be surrounded by peers who are fourth-generation or third-generation students at your specific college, so they initially know more about that school than you do. You can tend to feel like an outsider when you see your peers having an easier time navigating and getting used to the college life thanks to the information their parents and family have provided from their previous college experiences.
Family’s lack of understanding of college pressure
High school was more or less a breeze in terms of classes. Assignments could be knocked out a day before they were due with little to no effort and good grades were still an end result. Then you get to college and all of a sudden maximum effort is required in every single course. You are hit with a multitude of homework, individual projects, group projects, essays, and exams which are probably all scheduled to be due around the same time. Plus, there are extracurricular activities you may be involved in that further occupy your schedule. With a full course load and other things to consider, the stress just piles on. Then when you try to share your stress with your parents, they can’t relate as they’ve never experienced it. It can get really frustrating when you feel your stress isn’t validated. Sometimes, even when they don’t mean it, your parents/family will make remarks that stress concerning school isn’t that big a deal. When this happens, you are more likely to keep all that stress shut inside and let it eat away at you.
The separation anxiety from home and family
Leaving home and family behind to a new place can be tough. It is even tougher for those first-gen students who have never been far from home for long and whose family have always remained close. First gen student’s family members never had to leave the home they’ve always known to attend college. With that being said, you can start feeling disconnected from your family with how far you are. Phone calls between your parents consist of filling you in how the family is, what’s been going on at home, and how much they really miss you. This can get you feeling guilty about being away from home and you may even feel isolated because it seems like you’re missing out.
Confusion when it comes to identity
In order to fit in with the college atmosphere, first-gen students tend to create another identity to allow themselves to blend in with the crowd. This identity differs greatly from the identity they assume when they are at home with their family. These separate identities and personalities differ considerably and can conflict with each other, making it tough on you while also forcing you to rethink who you really are.
These problems are unique to first-gen students and they can make you feel detached from your peers, friends, family, and even yourself. Through my personal experience as a first-generation college student, I can tell you that it gets better. These issues are not impossible to manage. It is the hardest the first year but you will get accustomed to campus life in time. There are also ways to get your family to understand your struggles such as explaining what your courses are asking for and there is almost always campus resources that allow you to share what you’re going through with others who have been in your same position. Frequent phone and video calls consisting of what you are experiencing are a great tool for calming that separation anxiety from your family and you don’t have to keep your college and home identities distinct as they are both parts of you. Trust and believe in yourself because while these problems can put a damper on your experience, once they’re managed college can be loads of fun and you will be really proud of yourself for getting through it.