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Jan 30 2017
by A. T. Thomas

What It's Like to Have Family That Didn't Go to College

By A. T. Thomas - Jan 30 2017

Disclaimer: This article is quite personal and was written simply to help anyone experiencing stress or pressure associated with being a first-generation student or anything similar.

One of my parents went to college and one did not. However, they are both successful and happy with the states of their lives. As a kid, college was always something I dreamed about — or at least the televised representation of it. I thought I'd be on my own, going to parties every night and sitting in huge lecture halls every morning. I was at least correct about being on my own. 

I didn't talk about college with members of my family until my junior year of high school. When we finally did talk, I asked them: "What was it like when you went?" I soon found out that neither my maternal nor paternal grandparents went to college and neither had most of my aunts, uncles and older cousins. Of course, I was a little confused because at the time, I thought that higher education was the only way one could get a job. I thought that the only way for someone to become successful was by attending college. 

After discovering that the percentage of my family that hadn't gone to college was higher than that of those who had, I felt some pressure. I felt pressure to go to college just so that I wouldn't be a part of the group that hadn't gone. Now don't get me wrong, the majority of my family members who didn't go to college are doing well, but I also knew that for the career path I planned to take, not having a degree would severely hurt my chances of accomplishing my dreams. 

I then had to figure out why I wanted to go to college. I had to ask myself if pursuing higher education was important to me or if I felt that it was obligatory because of my family members who hadn't gone. At some point, I did feel like I had to go to college. Why? Because there is still a stigma around people who choose to not go to college or who drop out. I knew there were other options, but none of them appealed to me; however, I still wondered if I was going because that's what the majority of people do. Was I going because my parents were making me? Or because a few of my family members that didn't attend college told me it was the only option available for success?  In the end, I realized it was none of the above. I honestly wanted to go to college because I personally wanted to.

Now that I'm in college, I don't feel any more pressure. My family is very supportive and believes that no matter what field I end up in, I'll put everything into it.  So far, I'm pretty sure college is the right fit for me, but even if I realize that it isn't, I'm not worried about any stigma. Although my family wants me to graduate and have a better life than they've had, I know that if I decide to do otherwise, they'll have my back. To be honest, it takes a while to get to that point, but all good things take time. 

To anyone who feels like they have to prove themselves to family members who didn't attend college, let me be the first to tell you that you don't. Hope that your family will support you no matter what happens or what you decide and do what you want to do. If you are or will be a first generation student, go to college only if that's what you sincerely wish to do. Don't go just because of those before you who didn't. You are your own person, regardless of what family you come from. Remember that your family's experiences, successes and failures do not have to be yours too. Yes, I will admit that in our current society, higher education might have more benefits, but it is not the only option. College is not the only key to success. You might feel stressed about making the decision, but if you follow your heart, you'll be sure to make the right one. 

Good luck.

Lead Image Credit: Pexels

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A. T. Thomas - Connecticut College

Introvert, photographer. From the suburbs of Chicago. I love The Office and short walks on the beach.

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