Tips for First-Generation College Students

As a first-generation college student, you may face a lot of hurdles.  Fortunately, you can jump right over them with these tips!

Most undergraduates contend with at least a modicum of anxiety as they stand on the cusp of their college careers.  And these feelings are often amplified in many first-generation college students.  Certainly, they are excited about the prospects that lie ahead.  But they also experience an abundance of pressure to succeed.  Moreover, they frequently carry a deep fear that they might not be as talented, smart or well-equipped as peers hailing from families where higher education is standard and expected.  And, it can be difficult to turn to their parents for support as these experiences are also foreign to them.

Of course, it’s definitely possible to overcome issues that arise or feelings of self-doubt.  If you’re a first-generation college student, try to keep these tips in mind as you make the transition:

You are meant to be there!

First and foremost, it’s important to recognize that you belong at this school.  The admissions office would not have sent you an acceptance letter if they felt you couldn’t hack it or wouldn’t contribute to the vibrancy of the campus.  They realize that you have the wherewithal to succeed.  Sure, you’re bound to encounter a few stumbling blocks.  And that’s perfectly normal.  After all, it takes every undergrad time to adjust to college.  Be gentle and give yourself time to grow as a student.  With a little hard work and perseverance, you’re bound to thrive!

Don’t be afraid to ask for help!

Don’t let yourself drown in pity and self-doubt.  Many students, regardless of their backgrounds, struggle in their classes from time to time.  Instead of giving in to your insecurities, make a courageous, smart move and ask for help.  There’s a reason why professors hold office hours and why colleges maintain writing centers.  No one wants to see you fail.  By asking for a little assistance, you’ll help get yourself back on track, likely strengthen your skill-sets and certainly reduce your stress level.  It’s a win all around, really!

Be patient and understanding with your family!

While you may be the one attending college, this is still new territory for all of you.  And, especially in the beginning, your parents/family might not have a good sense of the demands you’re facing.  They may expect you to visit with frequency, attend many family functions and/or still help with the day-to-day running of the household.  Or, they may simply expect that you will call home on a daily basis.  It’s important to be patient with each other as you attempt to navigate this next stage.  Communicate as openly as possible.  Keep them abreast of your workload and social life.  Remind them that you care deeply about the family and that you’re working hard to strike a healthy balance with all of your new priorities.

Build and maintain relationships!

Oftentimes, first-generation college students are not as familiar with the purpose or importance of building a network.  However, we encourage you to do your utmost to cultivate relationships with professors and TAs.  We know it can be intimidating, but make a point to visit your teachers during their office hours.  Ask questions and show that you’re engaged with the material and their disciplines.  Take advantage of their knowledge and look to them for guidance.  Many professors are happy to mentor their students.  And by making a connection early on in your academic career, you establish a relationship that you can capitalize on throughout your collegiate years and beyond – whether it be the opportunity to assist them with research, securing a recommendation or simply benefitting from career advice.

Making the transition to college can be difficult, especially if you’re a first-generation student.  Don’t fall into a panic if you hit a bump in the road.  Instead, be patient, be assertive and remind yourself that you have the drive and determination to succeed.  After all, you made it to college!  Now believe that you can make it through college!

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