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First-generation: Same word different experiences

Written by: Justin Guzman 🇪🇨



Testudo sitting in front of McKeldin Library at the University of Maryland on March 31, 2023. (Jenson Castillo)


First generation was a word that I heard a lot during my time in high school. I didn’t realize what it meant until I began college.


First-generation college students fall into different categories such as students with older siblings who went to college and students without older siblings.


A first-generation college student is a student with parents who didn’t attend college. This word can describe many students that come from low-income families.


One of the challenges first-generation college students face is graduation and retention.


According to Forbes, 89% of low-income first-generation students drop out of college. This is four times the dropout rate for second-generation college students.


What makes this significant is that first-generation college students can struggle throughout college, for example, asking for help, something I struggle with.


Throughout my life, I didn’t ask my parents for help with schoolwork which made me resort to learning it on my own. This is a common occurrence for first-gen students.


According to the Center For First-Generation Student Success, it is common for first-gen students to be less likely to look for resources that would help them with school or financial support and even attend office hours.


One advantage of having an older sibling who went to college as a first-generation student over a student who didn't is that you can always count on your siblings to help you find resources and listen to you. There is a higher probability that they have experienced similar difficulties.


There is also a lack of understanding of how to navigate college in terms of not knowing how to manage your time, what resources you can and can’t use, and the programs that aid students with finding internships and jobs.


Not having assistance in figuring those things out before starting college affects first-gen students when they get into college.


Another issue that occurs in college is the idea of feeling lonely. First-gen students tend to feel isolated because they feel insecure and it tends to be hard to relate to other students that aren’t first-generation.


Another reason students feel lonely is that first-generation college students tend to feel like it's difficult for their peers to relate to them.


One factor that has led to loneliness is that students can not participate in college activities due to financial issues as stated in The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds,


The fear of failure and disappointment is common for many students. But it tends to be more severe for first-gen students.


While not every first-gen student is low-income, according to the Center for First-Generation Student Success, 56%of students come from low-income families as of 2015.


This is why many first-gen students want to help lift their families from financial burden, to help their families live a better life and get them in a higher economic status.


As a first-gen student, I have the fear of disappointing my family. It has always been on my mind since my senior year of high school.


The idea that I will not be able to pass my classes and get my bachelor's is my biggest fear. I want to be able to succeed and help to provide for my family, which many students can relate to.


Even if all first-gen students have different experiences I believe that being known as a first-generation student should be seen as an accomplishment. You are proving that you are hardworking and you don't give up when time gets rough.

Even if you have help from older siblings or are the first to attend college out of all your siblings. Taking the first step towards attending college is a big accomplishment and will be passed down to future generations.



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