Combating College as a First-Generation College Student
Before I stepped into UT, I was excited to join and study together with wonderful students dedicated to changing the world. I was even more excited to finally attend the university I’ve dreamt about being in seventh grade. One of the factors that played into this eagerness was how my parents never could have attended college in El Salvador and Nicaragua due to social, economic, and political reasons. However, during my first semester at UT, I’ve learned what it means to be a first-generation college student. It wasn’t just a label that I put into my college application; it was an experience of having no clue what to do at any given time in university. Sometimes, I would even feel guilty that I didn’t belong at UT and if I stopped having that guilt, I would stress myself over carrying the expectations on a being a first-generation college student. I had to be perfect, and being almost perfect didn’t make the mark. I noticed my peers were doing better in college. They were able to balance college classes and extracurricular activities among other responsibilities. I’ve strived to be like them, but when I did, it was a constant struggle of “not being enough.” I’ve felt as if I had to do the most to prove that I am worthy and that I was not admitted just because of my socioeconomic status. However, as time went on, I’ve learned to ease the stress of being a First Gen Longhorn. Here are some tips to help with that stress.
1) Get a Mentor
While your mentor doesn’t have to be a first generation college student, your mentor can provide encouragement and become a guide. I personally recommend someone who’s going into the same field as you. The more experienced in college they are, the better. Whether first generation or not, you can always ask them about challenges in college. You can discuss any doubts and fears with your mentor, and a mentor can provide you advice. They can also bust any college myths and misconceptions. For instance, my mentor for the Women In Natural Sciences program, astronomy and physics major Aimee Schechter, provided great information about applying to graduate school. While it is my goal for the next four years to go to graduate school, I had no idea that I wasn’t required to have a Master’s before getting a Ph.D. We all know that the learning curve in transitioning from high school to college is really steep in, and those who have gone through that transition successfully can provide great insight into your future career.
2) Self-Care is Important
My biggest advice is to never compare yourself to anyone else. Everyone here in college has a different background. Trust me, I did this and it led to a huge wave of impostor syndrome that was incredibly unnecessary. Focus on instead on yourself and and bettering yourself as a person. If you become to stressed out, take a break and unwind. Sometimes students prioritize making the grade over themselves, but that is one of the biggest mistakes a college student can make. Please eat your meals as usual and get a good night’s sleep. Don’t overwork yourself or you will be burnt out until you realize. Taking breaks are so important to help you relax your mind.
3) Find Reliance with other First-Generation College Students
Here at the University of Texas, First-Gen Longhorns provides a great support system in place for first generation college students. First-Gen Longhorns creates initiatives and workshops to address specific adversities first generation college students face. Unfortunately, I wish I took advantage of this as a freshman, but I used to be slightly embarrassed of being a first-generation college student. For me, I didn’t want the label “first generation” because I thought it would make me seem like a weak student. However, I learned to embrace the term and realized the significance. I advise you to please do not be embarrassed of being a first generation college student. Meanwhile, I learned to talk to other first generation college students, and we discussed similar struggles we faced on campus. It helped to know that I wasn’t alone in my struggles. When you find other first-generation college students, you can form a community and help uplift each other.
4) Become Involved
When you become involved, you find support groups on campus that give you the confidence you need to succeed in college. Becoming involved also gives you the opportunity to discuss any of your college woes with your friends. The best feeling is knowing how much of an impact you’re making on your campus and in your community through the organizations and clubs you join. Sharing common interests among club and organization members is one of the easiest ways to make friendships. Also, by being involved, you can use your voice and perspective to bring change and help improve the quality of life of other first generation Longhorns. Personally, I love science, so I found resilience in organizations such as Fun with Chemistry and Natural Sciences Council. Don’t be intimidated by the number of clubs and organizations! This is the perfect opportunity to find more support groups and explore your diverse interests!
5) Don’t Be Afraid to Ask
There’s always this huge stigma against asking for help. Don’t let that be the case. Unfortunately, we do not have our family at our disposal, so ask other college students, faculty, and advisors about any questions you have about financial aid, how to do well in classes, and accessing career resources. When questions comes up in your mind, make sure to jot them down or ask right it away before you forget it. There are so many resources at the University of Texas at Austin dedicated to helping you succeed in college and beyond. I find it easier to call for a direct and quick response, but emailing departments can work as well.
These are my tips to help combat college as first-generation college student. Hopefully, they can ease the stress of that being a first-generation college student brings. Please, don’t forget that you belong here.