The first generation experience at the University of Maryland
Written by: Alejandra Perez 🇲🇽
Maryland Terps come from different backgrounds, varying in race, economic statuses, and social classes.
One of the biggest differences in experiences is whether someone has college educated parents. Those that are the first in their families to seek higher education are known as first-generation college students.
Veronica Kim, an information science major and Science, Technology, Ethics and Policy (STEP) minor, began with expressing her overwhelming need to go to college. She explained that her parents’ constant push of going to college in combination with her high school made it impossible to think of any alternatives; she was determined to seek higher education.
“It helped that I went to school in Howard county. They put so much emphasis on going to college, [they] never talked about trade school. Everyone that went to my school went to UMD,” explained Kim.
Being a Howard County resident allowed Kim to have the adequate resources to guide her during the college admissions process, but she emphasized her struggle with financial aid.
The FAFSA, which is only for U.S. citizens and some eligible noncitizens, is still relatively complicated to navigate. A lack of clarity in seeking financial aid has made students such as Kim experience the frustration of visiting the UMD financial aid office multiple times.
“You have to do a lot of self research. That can be a big learning curve," said Kim.
Oreoluwa, who is double majoring in operations management & business analytics and information systems at the Robert H. Smith School of Business, spends her time outside of class working shifts at Rudy’s cafe in Van Munching Hall.
After migrating from Nigeria, her father experienced the common reality of realizing a foreign degree was not transferable, stripping him of his credentials. This forced restart was ingrained into Oreoluwa, pushing her to want to go to college to ensure a stable future for herself.
A Prince George’s County native, Oreoluwa expressed her lack of preparation in the college application process.
Both her family and counselors at her high school had a hard time helping her due to her noncitizen status. Her citizenship status affected her eligibility for financial aid, leaving her to research scholarship opportunities on her own.
“I did not have the adequate resources. I had to figure it out myself, figuring out financial aid and what I was eligible for,” said Oreoluwa.
Cecilia Cruz, a community health major, was born in El Salvador and migrated to the United States in 2011, fleeing a crime and poverty filled area.
Cruz and her mother migrated to the U.S for better opportunities, with higher education being one of them. Applying to college was especially intimidating for Cruz.
“The college application process was a frightening experience mostly because I lacked a lot of information about the process. I had no idea what the FAFSA application was, what colleges I should be applying to, and how to do it,” said Cruz.
One of the biggest struggles Cruz had to overcome was finding what to study.
While her advisors attempted to aid her, she felt like she was behind.
“I wish there was a program dedicated to help people like me; first generation college students. Because a lot of advisors don’t know what it is like and they already expect you to know what you’re doing. I definitely think there’s a lack of resources provided for us.”
Oftentimes, she felt as though the resources provided were not for someone who had no previous knowledge of what college is like.
Dr. Robert Chester
Dr. Chester, a senior lecturer in the American Studies department, is a first-generation college student himself; he explained his familiarity with the nerves that come with that first semester in college.
He comes from a blue-collar background in the United Kingdom and describes himself as the “first person capable of and inclined to continue education.”
Teaching required courses for the U.S. Latino Studies minor, he encounters a variety of first generation students, each with their own unique stories.
“I think first generation college students appreciate the opportunity [compared to] those that have presumed college their whole life. There’s a desire to learn, that is sometimes lacking elsewhere,” said Dr. Chester.
Many first-generation college students note the complicated nature of financial aid, and emphasize the importance of doing self research. Resources are available to close these gaps in information, it’s just about asking the right questions.