First Generation: You CAN do it

Document created by mcmahonj on Jul 1, 2016Last modified by on Dec 5, 2016
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Being the first in your family to go to college is undeniably hard. My parents had me when they were both young (like straight out of high school young) and they had to make some hard decisions. Where would we live, where would I go to school, what is her future going to be like, how will she navigate the things we didn't have to navigate? These were just a few of the questions my parents had to ask themselves when they had me. Life got a lot more complicated.


My grandfather attended the college that I will, in approximately 1 school year, be graduating from. My high school was great for preparing students to go off to college but a lot of the other students had parents who already knew the frustration of applying for college and what to expect. I, on the other hand, didn't. I had no one to really turn to within my family, sure my grandfather and other family members attended college but things have changed since then and the advice they could give was given with caution because they didn't want to lead me down the wrong path. My guidance counselor (thank god for her and just generally everyone in my high school) and I were pretty close I'd like to say; I was pretty close and friendly with a lot of the teachers, staff, and other faculty so they became my resources. Everyday or as often as I could, I would visit and talk to them about whatever was bothering me with school. She found me resources and scholarship websites and even proofread my college essays. Without these people, I would not be where I am today. And that is something I tell everyone who is considering college and in high school: take advantage of your resources. Everything is what you make it and it is so important if you don't know what you're doing. Ask questions and get answers.


She managed to help me find a program called HEOP/AHANA. They are two separate financial aid programs but they work in tandem. They are essentially for first generation college students and offer the same services to their students but different financial aid packages. I eventually got into AHANA for financial need and being first generation. This part is really convoluted and boring so I won't get too into the details here except that this is something to consider applying for, my first generation friends. There is typically a box to check off on the common application or the respective school's application. Keep in mind that there is an interview that happens and a writing assessment and if you are accepted a 5-week summer program to prepare for the upcoming school year.

After the finding of scholarships, programs, etc. I still really didn't know anything about applying for college other that I needed to write a personal essay and fill out the common application. I didn't know what schools I wanted to attend. I went on a college tour but looking back, I was more overwhelmed by the experience than anything. I didn't know what I was supposed to be looking at or evaluating. I didn't know whether to ask about if printing and laundry were free, what student life was like, if there was a shuttle to take me grocery shopping or just anywhere off campus. I didn't know anything.

Once I actually got to applying, I didn't have money and neither did my family to apply for schools with fees associated with their applications so I applied to schools that were free to apply to through the common app. I picked all the free ones that weren't too far away from home. By the time I was done, I had applied to ten colleges and began to eagerly waited for the next few months to get something in the mail. Everyday for weeks I ran for to the mailbox as soon as I got home or checked the counter if I got home late to see if there was anything. And for those who, first generation or not, are getting ready to go to college: I assure you, this is an exhilarating and nerve-wracking time.

My dad was happy I had the opportunity to go and even consider college. My parent's life stories and how they came to be together are a story for another day but essentially my dad raised himself, didn't go to the best schools, and just was all around not interested in school. He liked certain things but to this day, he prefers to teach himself. My mom was adopted by my grandparents and attended boarding school and had a completely different high school experience than I did so we would often butt heads. They were both proud of what I had accomplished in high school: Athletic teams, honors in psychology, honors in community service, scholarships, etc. My mom was worried though that I would get rejection letters because I didn't do too hot in my high school career. I think this is important to mention because grades are not the end all be all for students, whether it's high school or college. Sure, don't flunk out but don't worry if you don't have "top of your class" grades either. I certainly didn't, but I was determined to prove to everyone, including myself, that I had no barriers that I couldn't smash through. I went from being a soft-spoken dorky middle-schooler to an outspoken, humorous young woman who (I'd like to think) was well liked by classmates.

A few weeks after applying I got home and checked our mailbox to find a big thick envelope from one of the colleges I had applied to. I didn't even need to open it to know what it was. But, when I did out fell a T-shirt and a letter, I don't even think I read the whole letter, I stopped after: "Dear NMW, We are pleased to inform you...". And it didn't stop there, over the next few weeks I received my next few letters and somewhere along the line I got a rejection but it didn't pull me down from cloud 9, it only humbled me. I was 9/10 and felt like I had accomplished something. To this day, when people ask me my biggest accomplishment I say that getting into college was it. For many people, it's a no-brainer: apply, get in to a few (maybe get rejected), choose, and go. But for my family and I it was another street to cross. Now, that I was accepted what would happen once I left the cradle of high school? High school was manageable but my family felt I would succumb to the pressures of college and drop out.


I have done well so far in college and had many great opportunities. I have an internship that found me after I posted my resume on Monster and are planning to offer me full time employment once I graduate. God truly blessed me with this internship because I work remotely and set my own hours. I also didn't take internships or offers just because it wasn't in line with what I wanted to do. Even with my mom being confused as to what I want to do (of that I'm not 100% sure)- I learned to be flexible and take risks. I also made sure to form bonds with professors for letters of recommendation and frequently visit my AHANA advisers and talk to them.


I am now entering my senior year of college and can confidently say that: you can do this. Whether you are a first generation college student or not, young or old. Don't let anything stop you from being educated or from your dreams. While I have incurred mass debt, I am not afraid of my future because I love the ability to learn and talk with people of differing opinions to gain more insight into a variety of issues and I love where I am headed. I will have no fears going into my future because with plans to go to law school, open some businesses, and essentially create a brand for myself: the only way for me to go is up. Of course, there will be situations I can't handle, I may become overwhelmed (and I have), or I may see a complete 180 on my life but I won't let that stop me from expanding my intelligence and current knowledge to be all that I can be. Because, at the end of the day: they can never take my intelligence from me.