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Jan 25 2016
by Jayde Anzola

What It's Actually Like Being a First Generation College Student

By Jayde Anzola - Jan 25 2016

“I’m a first generation college student!”

A phrase that is coated with this proud and eager tone has this horrible (and rather disgusting) stigma attached to it. People don’t really like to acknowledge this stereotype because it’s a unfortunate one, indeed, but I believe that it should not go unnoticed. What is it that makes a first-generation student any different than the student that has two parents or even one parent that attended universities or colleges?

Let’s think about it like this: there’s this stigma for most first-generation students that they won't finish and get their diploma. I’ve even noticed that people can get rather snobby towards first-generation college students. So here I am to report that this stigma is as untrue as stating that the earth is flat. I'm here to share my experience with my first semester being a first-generation college student.

First of all, if you are a first-generation college student, give yourself a pat on the back, a high-five, a cookie or some sort of reward because YOU ROCK. Taking a huge step to continue your education after high school should most definitely be rewarded and you should be commended for it because, let’s face it, it isn’t easy. On top of transitioning to college-level classes (which sucks for everyone, first-generation or not), you’re going out into completely uncharted territory, and it is scary. It’s really scary, actually. 

I can relate to feeling extremely intimidated in my classes, and feeling like I didn’t belong. Hearing the mumbling conversations of “I’m pre-med, with a minor in psychology and physiology and I’m also going to study chemical engineering on the side” (okay, slight exaggeration) made me think that I was dumb for only knowing I wanted to go into health and medicine. But someone wise once told me that people only try and make themselves look put together. So once I was able to tune the egotistical maniacs out, it became a little easier to maintain my focus.

Trying to enter this university of 30,000 undergrads is a feeling I don’t think I’ll ever forget. It wasn’t a singular moment in time that I was riddled with fear, either, it was a continuing cycle that lasted about three months. Like aforementioned, I felt very intimidated by my classmates. If they all felt like tiny fish in a big pond, I felt like a singular hydrogen molecule in that pond. It was hard for me to adjust, while it seemed to come easy for everyone else. I threw the blame at my family because I wasn’t figuring it out like I hoped to be. And that wasn’t fair to them and it wasn’t fair to me to not hold myself accountable for trying to make it work.

I also placed a tremendous amount of pressure on myself because I felt like I had to be the perfect example for my two little sisters. I knew my parents wanted me to succeed because I was holding this amazingly golden opportunity in my hands, and they didn't want me to throw it all away. Of course they only meant well, and that made me feel even more pressured to do extremely well, much like I did in high school. And I was also trying to convince myself that what I was majoring in was truly what my passions were. It took me into this semester before I realized that I didn't want to pursue a degree in health and medicine. I didn't know where to go, besides my advisor, to talk about doing this whole "life-discovery" thing, and that within itself caused some serious pressure. I didn't want to go through 4+ years of school hating what I was studying. I felt like I was going to crack under all this pressure, and I took it out on the wrong people. And I used every excuse in the book so I wouldn't blame myself for everything feeling like it was building up. 

I used the excuse of being a first-generation student as if it was hindering me from excelling in my classes, and figuring out what I wanted to major in, but then it all clicked for me. Being a first-generation student shouldn't hinder me from doing well in college; it’s that very mindset that people that look down upon first-generation students have. If anything, being a first-generation is what is motivating me to continue on!

Everyone obtaining some sort of post-secondary education should also be commended, because nobody is forcing you to continue your education. And while for the students that had both parents attend universities or college, it may feel like you’re being forced to follow in those big footsteps, you really aren’t being forced to get that degree. For first-generation college students, however, they really aren’t following in any path. Rather, they are creating their own. And creating your own path and going your own direction is huge step for anyone, especially if you’re the first one to do it. Stepping out into the real world and making this huge and honest effort to better your life is seriously one of the best things a person can do for themselves.

Being a first-generation college student has helped me to have a unique experience compared to my peers, and I honestly don't think I would change my experiences thus far for anything. Being the first in my family doesn't make me incompetent, and it also doesn't make me better than any of my peers, either. I'm creating my own path and following my own direction, and that within itself is pretty cool. I'm just trying to reach the big goals and dreams I've set out for myself, just like everyone else. I go to class like everyone else, I do my homework, I completely change my major, and I'm just trying to find my place in this big and crazy world. The only thing that makes me different is that I'm the first in my family to do it. Of course, it can be challenging sometimes. I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel like giving up a lot this first semester. But I can't help but to feel incredibly blessed to have these obstacles to overcome, and to have these challenges set out in front of me. 

Lead Image Credit: ABC Family Original Pictures

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Jayde Anzola - Purdue University

Jayde is a freshman at Purdue University studying Public Relations and Communications with a minor in Spanish. When she's not writing, you can find her wandering around campus with her camera, FaceTiming her mom, or rewatching Gossip Girl. You can follow her on Instagram @jaydeanzola!

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