First, but not the only…First, but not the only…
A first generation college student is typically defined as a student whose parent(s)/legal guardians(s) have not completed a bachelor’s degree, but sometimes it’s not always that simple. UCLA defines first generation more broadly, being that this status extends also to students whose parent(s)/legal guardian (s) have not completed a bachelor’s degree in the United States. For myself it was even more complicated. While both my parents had a few college classes under their belts, neither have degree. My older sister was actively working towards a bachelor’s degree when I embarked on my own experience, but I was still largely on my own in terms of how to make my college experience work since my sister chose to stay at home and commute, whereas I chose a university that was a few hours away from home (full disclaimer, I am not a Bruin).
Despite the differences in locations or nuances that can occur from institution to institution, I’m sure anyone who identifies as a first generation student can agree on one thing: being first generation comes with a flurry of emotions. I’ll keep it simple by listing my top 5.
- Pride: You’ll be the first (or one of the first if you have siblings) in your family to get a degree and that’s a big deal! You worked really hard to have options and you should be proud of that.
- Regret: It’s hard not to feel like you’ll not only become a financial burden in your attempts to secure wealth long term, but also that you’re leaving everyone else behind.
- Nervousness: I spent much of my freshman year that despite doing well, I would somehow completely ruin it and flunk out.
- Confusion: There’s a lot you have to learn fast, like all the forms that need to be completed, people you need to see/meet, and offices you need to find. I really struggled with time management my first year of college because I wasn’t used to the new timeline of how the school year went and what federal documents I needed to complete and when. (I was one of those people who didn’t really understand that the FAFSA needed to be completed every year by a certain time.)5.
- Excitement: It’s certainly not all bad. There’s definitely a certain thrill that comes with being a trailblazer, and it’s exciting to know that you’ll soon become the authority on applying/going to college for other family members.
I think most important things to note about all these emotions is that it’s ok to feel them. You will feel all of these emotions at some point during your collegiate experience (sometimes all at once), but that’s perfectly fine and you just need to ride them out. You’re not the only person feeling this way/going through this so take advantage of the resources your campus offers to get through. Someone (or yourself) will convince you that you don’t need to go to orientation, but do yourself a favor and go! The folks over at the First Year Experience work really hard to make sure your transition to UCLA is smooth whether you’re the first to go to college or you’re the 5th so go glean their wisdom and use their resources. Everyone’s college experience is uniquely their own, but that doesn’t mean you can’t solicit help and support from those who have been there or are currently experiencing the same thing.
The thing that really got me through college was having the opportunity to “build my family” and/or support network at school. My parents were miles away and I knew they wouldn’t always understand the things I was going through or the way I was feeling, and my sister was busy with her own higher education pursuits that I didn’t want to feel like a burden by asking questions or venting. The network you form doesn’t just have to be your roommate or your study group for math, but can also be the advisor of that awesome student group you joined during the Enormous Activities Fair (EAF) or that really cool faculty member you met when you went to a UCLA First To Go event. This group can be whomever you’d like because as they say, friends are the family you choose. The newfound “family” I chose for myself during college would become vital to me as an adult and professional because they also became some of my closest friends, mentors, and even colleagues.
Just because you’re taking the road less traveled, doesn’t mean you have to travel alone…