A First-Generation Student’s Quick Guide to College

Having the opportunity to go to college is a privilege millions take for granted. Being the first in your family to do so is not only daunting, but it also comes with a lot more pressure than you may have bargained for. As a first-generation student, I can easily say I am grateful for the chance to pursue higher education. However, the steps to get there aren’t exactly clean cut. Here’s a guide to all of you who are lost in the meandering path toward college in hopes that it will enlighten the many twists along the way of making it in the “academic real world.”

The Common Application is the cornerstone to your college career quite frankly because you can’t get very far without the base of your acceptance to any colleges. It is comprised of a series of questions, which includes your parents' background and your own. Make sure to have all the important dates (parents' marriage/separation, birthdays, social security numbers, etc.) at hand because it makes your life easier to complete that whole portion in a single run so you can focus on the most important facet of the application – the essay. My final PSA on this matter is to work on applications ahead of time. Regardless of your writing skill, it is always better to get someone to read over your work — you will have multiple drafts if you’re doing it right. Personally, I recommend going to your high school English teacher and getting him or her to give it a glance.

Financial Needs
FAFSA is every struggling student’s best friend. For the love of any God or higher being you may believe in, do not procrastinate with this application because the later you turn it in, the less likely you are to receive aid – especially if it’s the day before the due date. Get your parents’ W2 forms and other financial records in order by mid-February, as well as your own if you have any. Doing the FAFSA is a lot less complicated when you can easily link it instead of having to estimate every financial number they ask for. If you know you may need or want a job in college, you need to be work-study eligible so your life is easier when you start looking for one. Be on the lookout for the work-study eligibility question because you cannot request it once the application has been submitted.

Family Pressure
Making your parents proud is embedded in your system whether your parents pressured you or not, though you should remember that pursuing your academic and career goals is about you, too. Personally, I’ve been motivated to do well in school because I always felt I had to for the sake of my parents' sacrifices to get me here. Learn how to inspire the drive in yourself. In the end, the person who needs you to succeed the most is you. Do not let anyone determine what goals you want to set for yourself, especially if they seemingly want to control or influence your decision making for the sake of higher pay rather than your happiness.

Social Pressures
Greek life is a major social facet of the college experience. If you choose to join a sorority or co-ed fraternity, you will automatically have either a sisterhood or brotherhood where you’ll find a social circle to be involved in. But keep in mind that you’ll have to pay a fee every semester. If you don’t rush, you may need to put more effort into finding your group through clubs, organizations or classes. Additionally, depending on the school spirit at your school, a lot of bonding is done at home sporting events and at tailgates or after parties, so be sure to check those out as part of your college experience.

Finding Your Balance
If you need help in class, do not feel ashamed for needing some tutor assistance because in the end it’s your grade on the line. Most schools have their own well-known study aid programs or free tutoring programs. At UF, the most popular paid tutoring services are Study Edge, Smokin'Notes and TutoringZone. Free services by UF are usually available by department, so be sure to check those out. Be sure to continuously set short-term goals and eventually develop long-term ones along the way because you need to start off somewhere or you will get overwhelmed easily.

Making It
To say that establishing your career goals by your senior year is important is a massive understatement. Though some people spin their degrees in a different context when hunting in the job market, you want to make sure you have some rough, rounded-down idea of what you want to do with your life. Deciding whether graduate school is part of your process is something that needs to be thought of by your junior year in order to begin studying and taking the examinations required. Follow through your last two years of college wisely because once graduation day rears its ugly head, there’s no turning back.

The biggest mistake many of my friends made was settling for the school that accepted everyone, or not working hard enough to make it to a better college. If you have to go to your local college because of your grades or financial circumstances, that’s okay. But don’t let that be the limit of your aspirations. Work hard, get your associate degree and aim higher than the comfortable university in your area. Regardless of your conditions, aiming for what everyone else is doing should not be a factor when it comes to your future – and do not let anyone tell you otherwise.

Photo credit: aimseducation.edu