First in Your Family to Go to College? Where to Look for Support
First-generation college students often face significant hurdles to graduating college. Some problems are financial in nature; even with financial aid, college can be expensive, and many students from disadvantaged backgrounds find themselves struggling to pay for basic costs of living while at school. But the problems don’t end with finances. Fitting in socially and academically can also be a problem for students who come from vastly different backgrounds and cultures than their college peers.
It can be difficult finding support from the sources where you’re used to looking for it—with family and friends. That’s because, if you’re a first-generation college student, your family and previous peer group may not understand what you’re going through. However, there are places you can go to find academic and moral support in college. Here are a few ideas.
Your college friends
Making friends in college isn’t always easy for first-generation college students, and may require special effort. But it’s worth it to put yourself out there and join extracurricular activities that interest you. Older students with college experience can serve as informal mentors and guides, even if they come from a more privileged background.
If you’re struggling on campus, check with your school to see whether they offer programs specifically designed to help and support first-generation college students. Many colleges offer mentorship and counseling programs that can be of help, whether your issues are social, financial, or a combination of both.
Students in the same situation
One of the major difficulties faced by first-generation college students is an alienating feeling of “otherness” on college campuses that they may never have experienced before. This could be because of socio-economic background, race, or other factors related to the fact that most students on campus do not share or understand their background and challenges.
However, there may be places and ways to meet students from situations and backgrounds similar to yours, on both traditional campuses and in accredited online colleges. Look for student organizations dedicated to your minority affiliation, if that’s applicable, or a student group dedicated to first-generation students. If there isn’t one, consider starting one. Most colleges support students in starting new groups, and establishing a first-generation students association could give you an outlet to meet others from similar backgrounds.
It’s fine to look off-campus for support. Even if your college doesn’t provide resources and programs specifically for first-generation college students, you can find the help, support, and resources you need online—if you know where to look. For example, the website I’mFirst.org offers a community of people who are first-generation college students themselves, where you can ask questions about college, share your story, and read the stories of others facing similar challenges.
Your alumni association may be able to connect you with other first-generation college students who have graduated successfully—and who might be willing to serve as a mentor to you. Talking to someone else who went to college under similar circumstances and made it through can be immensely helpful to those struggling on campus.
Getting through college isn’t easy for anyone—but it’s particularly difficult for many first-generation college students. However, there are places you can go for help if you’re struggling. Before dropping out, consider doing everything you can to make sure you complete school. Form connections with other students based on shared interests or similar backgrounds—and look for help and support. Ask your college which programs and resources they offer to first-generation college students. Look online for support outside your campus, and ask the alumni association to put you in touch with an alumni mentor from a similar background. With these tactics, you have a stronger chance of making it through and graduating successfully.
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