Growing up, I understood that college was never really a choice. It was more of an expectation for me. My parents moved to the United States shortly after finishing high school and then had me a little while after. Therefore, between a new baby, finances and a language barrier, college was out of the question. Their hopes and dreams of succeeding in this country were then passed on to me. From there on out, they worked endlessly to be able to support me and my sister.
In my household, my parents made it known that we needed to prioritize our education, which of course has its ups and downs. When applying to college, people like to tell you about all of the advantages you have, just for being labeled a first-gen kid. However, nobody ever talks about the negative associations with this title. The truth is being a first-generation college student is tough and it comes with a lot of pressures, anxiety and financial burden.
Like I mentioned, going to college was never a choice. Being the first to go to college in my family also meant my family had a lot of career expectations for me. From a young age, they did whatever it was to persuade me towards a career in STEM. I never really thought about what I actually wanted to study in college until about my senior year of high school. I always knew I wasn’t good at science-related subjects, but when it came time to declare what major I was applying to I kept my family in mind and just chose biology. However, once I took my first science course in college, I quickly realized, yeah, this isn’t for me. I was disappointed. I always felt like I had to be an exceptional student and realizing I couldn’t continue as a STEM major made me feel like I was failing my parents’ wishes. That being said, telling my parents I was switching my major was another major hurdle. I had decided I wanted to pursue a psychology degree because I discovered that I had a real knack for it and it truly interested me. When I told my family, rather than supporting me, they told me that was a waste of time and I wouldn’t make any money. This trend is common amongst first-generation college students. We all tend to get this same kind of comment from our parents. This causes us to be dissuaded from pursuing our actual goals. We get the narrative that college isn’t for us or that we are perusing a useless major.
Another roadblock that first-gen students tend to face is paying for college. A lot of college students don’t get financial support from their parents, and with the cost of attending college constantly rising, paying for college on our own is becoming harder and harder. Luckily, I have been grateful enough to receive some scholarships to pay for my time here at college, but I also know others aren’t as lucky. For one, the FAFSA process is a lengthy and frustrating one. Those with families that have language barriers are forced to figure out the application processes on their own, which of course adds additional stress. On top of that, scholarships are extremely competitive, especially for first-generation students, leading students to not even bother to apply for them. Overall, the complete financial burden of college alone can lead kids to fully shy away from attending.
College has been an amazing experience and I am incredibly proud of myself for being the first to attend and graduate college in my family — especially with two degrees. However, the journey here has been far from smooth. A first-generation student is a title that comes with a lot of pride but also a lot of burdens. If you’re in this position, don’t be afraid to seek out organizations and programs that help first-generation kids. Also, no matter what, do whatever makes you happy so don’t let outside pressures dictate your future.