By Daniela Ceja 42Fifty Staff Writer
College, to most students, is a chance at freedom; a desperate liberation from their parents into a world of cheap beer, co-ed bathrooms, and self discovery. They float through university life with moderate ease–the occasional academic hiccup here and there, but nothing that might jeopardize their chance at graduation. They’ll experiment and spend majority of their time trying to figure out “who they are” in this spiritual realm, all while mommy and daddy send care packages and an allowance to their 19 year old son.
And while most students have that luxury of wasting those four years, first-generation college students don’t.
It takes a psychological and physical toll on students with parents or guardians who’ve never pursued a higher education. Why? Because, suddenly, the process of enrollment becomes a very lonely, very pressuring, and very confusing road.
Becoming a first-generation college student is like being dropped in the middle of the ocean and watching your fellow peers glide through the seas on their professionally captained yacht while you hold a lousy compass in your hands.
Not only are first-generation undergrads perpetually lost in the world of postsecondary education, but a lot of students don’t receive much support either. Or, if they do receive familial support, a gnawing guilt eats away at them for breaking the family structure.
Most first-gen students are minorities and come from low-income families, meaning they play an integral role in the functionality of their homes. Whether it’s being the only English-speaker in the household or providing that much needed second or third income–a lot of these students understand a responsibility to their family and parents that other people don’t.
While most college students live on campus to get away from their parents, first-generation students dread it.
Along with guilt, students may also feel immense pressure. Within their family and community, going to college may register as a saving grace to all their problems. Suddenly, the student embodies this image of a savior–a Christ figure who will burden all the paperwork and stress in order to provide a higher quality of life for their loved ones.
That’s a lot of pressure for a kid–acting as Jesus and all.
And although this all may seem like disadvantages first-generation students face, it also becomes their motivation. To overcome adversity is, to a lot of kids, the main reason they struggle through those four years. Yes, to earn a bachelor’s degree shows dedication and well-versed knowledge, but to a first generation student, it means much more than that.
It means that in spite of it all, you were able to achieve what you wanted to achieve. It’s a formal acknowledgment that you surpassed all expectations through your own volition and not because your parents made you. It’s a piece of paper that promises a better life for you and your family.