Graphic by Sam Papavasiliou

Navigating the Pressures of the First-Generation Student Experience

First-generation students must look outside family for support
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First-generation students must look outside family for support

Usually, students talk with parents, siblings or friends who have attended college in the past to gather information and paint a picture about college classes, professors and the overall college experience. For first-generation students like myself, that’s not an option.

Being a first-generation student means you are the first person in your family to go to college. Your family members have no prior knowledge about college, the application and selection process, or what’s going to happen in the months prior to attending.

First-generation students feel the pressure of learning to balance living on your own, being successful in college and working a job all at the same time. For Destiny Aguilera, a second-year theatre major, the help they needed was provided by a high school instructor.

College is a time of self discovery.

“My greatest struggle has definitely been finding myself,” Aguilera said. “College is a time for learning, experimenting and growing as a person. As a first-generation student, it is also a time to work multiple jobs and try to support oneself as best as possible, with as little help from family as they can provide.”

The pressure to be successful and independent to avoid burdening parents financially heightens the expectations of the college experience.

“Having that pressure of taking care of oneself added to the mix makes it difficult to take time to breathe and learn more about who I am and who I want to be,” Aguilera said. “That being said, it’s not impossible. Just within recent months I’ve been able to discover that I identify as nonbinary and use they/them pronouns. I have college and allies to thank for that.”

College is a time of self discovery.

Natyvidad Landeros, a third-year biology major, got help with applying to colleges through a high school class created to help students prepare for college.

“I took it junior and senior year,” Landeros said. “They helped me with the process of applying. If it wasn’t for them I don’t know if I would have got into college.”

Javier Hernandez, a political science major at HSU, also prioritized resources outside his family to pick the school that fit his needs.

“I joined these college programs which helped other first-generation students like me to guide me through the process,” Hernandez said. “To take me to other college campuses and learn about the recruitment process and all the details that I needed to know applying to colleges.”

College is a time of change and immense amount of pressure. This pre-college experience is only heightened for first-generation students who have to navigate blindly and on their own. High school classes or staff, friends and independent interests can be helpful guides.

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