What It’s Really Like Being a First-Gen College Student

“First generation college student” is a phrase that colleges and universities love to throw around. It never meant much to me, and I didn’t even realize I was one until I was filling out the FAFSA and it clarified what a first generation college student actually is. When I was a freshman, I received plenty of emails from Miami about joining groups for first-gen students, living with first-gen students or attending mixers with all first-gen students. At the time, it seemed silly to me that they were making such a big deal out of it. Going to college has been so ingrained in me for as long as I can remember it never felt like some insurmountable obstacle, so I didn’t see the point in treating it like one.

At Miami, most people have parents with at least one, if not more, degrees. Peoples’ parents are literally CEOs of major companies and it’s not a big deal to anyone. This was in fact a big deal to me, and was one of the first times I realized what being “first-gen” means. Figuring out how to pay for tuition and rent and learning how to interact with professors and peers wasn’t something my parents ever did – so I had to learn how on my own. I never boasted about being first-gen because it felt so out of the norm for the university I attend.

As I am now officially a senior (that’s terrifying), I’ve realized that being first-gen isn’t something I should keep to myself. For having essentially no guidance – albeit plenty of support – I think I’ve done a pretty damn good job. I’ve always had above a 3.5 GPA, I’m involved on campus and hold a leadership position, I’ve connected with professors and have two jobs related to my future career. Lucky for me, I did more than enough research before going to college in order to figure out how it all “works.” I also did most of my learning on-the-job and through friends who knew how it was all supposed to go. Not having anyone to ask for advice was incredibly frustrating at times, but it also made me realize that I’m capable of more than I ever thought.

If you’re a first-gen student, my advice is don’t treat it like a dirty word. Be proud of the fact that you’re at the same university with kids of CEOs and surgeons. Be proud of what you’re doing and what you’ve accomplished, because it is not easy, and it’s even harder when you’re doing it all for the first time by yourself.

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