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Tips for a First Generation College Student

Updated: Nov 15, 2020

Andrea Rodriguez

PHHS '18, Muhlenburg College '21

If you are also the first one in your family to go to college, congratulations! I know how much work it took for you to get here and how many barriers you hurdled over. College is definitely an entirely new playing field. When entering my first semester, I began to feel like I was lacking important knowledge and tools to even be here. I did not realize how much I actually did not know about college compared to the majority of my peers and it forced me to wonder how I even got accepted. Currently, I am in the process of graduating a year early and proceeding to take a gap year before I head off to graduate school. I will always have more to learn as I continue to enter new spaces, but here are 5 tips that I wish someone had given me before I entered my first semester that I hope you will take with you.

1. Ask questions! - I cannot stress this enough. Whether or not you think they are stupid, they will help you in the long run. There are no stupid questions, if you need that information then it is worthy, and there is most likely another person that is nervous to ask the same thing. I will give you a prime example: I did not know why certain colleges were called liberal arts institutions, and I definitely didn’t ask. I learned the definition of liberal arts institution when I became a tour guide for admissions in my second semester. In case you are now wondering, in short, it is a well-rounded and multidisciplinary education. This was exactly what I wanted! I simply did not have the vocabulary to express this sentiment. If I had been comfortable enough to ask the question in the first place, I would have saved a lot of money on college applications...

2. Build connections and a support system. - One of the most important things I have done since being in college is building my support system of faculty, staff, and peers. I was very lucky to have experienced pre-orientation and preseason going into my first year, because I had an extra two weeks to adjust to my new home. I entered with a program designed to support first-generation students from underrepresented populations for a successful college experience by being socially and professionally supported through close relationships with faculty, staff and upperclassmen. This allowed me to find peers to connect with on a predominantly white campus, and faculty and staff that I could turn to with any questions or concerns. I have continued to build my connections outside of this program and am lucky to have crossed paths with professors I have never even taken courses with. Sometimes you have to seek out these connections yourself; it can be nerve-racking but it is worthwhile.

3. Be proactive. - If you are struggling academically, socially, spiritually, in any way, REACH OUT! As a young adult you must take action in order to pull yourself out of a hole before it gets too deep. You have worked so hard, do not let this be the thing that curbs your path to success. Find information about resources available for you at your college, whether it be counseling, academic tutoring, or career networking in order to push yourself forward. Even today, I continue to apply for tutors in my courses, attend workshops, and go to the writing center, so that I can always turn to them throughout the semester. It may seem tedious, but your professors will recognize the effort and I promise you will thank yourself for your efforts in the future! It is better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.

4. Get involved, but do NOT overload. - This was a lesson that hit me hard. When you enter your first semester you suddenly have everything at your fingertips, and it is a fresh start to try brand new things. However, do NOT sign up for every single thing. Your email inbox and your headspace will be filled and you will become very overwhelmed. Pick things that genuinely interest you, and do not be shy to admit when you no longer would like information. It is better to have fewer things that you can be better committed to than to have too many things that you don’t have time for. As your years continue on in college, you will find things being added to your schedule anyway, such as an internship, but you will be better equipped for it as time goes on.

5. Embrace everything and do it all for yourself! - College is the time to be selfish and get what you want out of your experience. I hope that while you are in college, you do things that you love and that you get comfortable branching out! Upperclassmen will tell you that they may have changed their major several times after realizing it was not what they were passionate about, they were there for the wrong reasons or influenced by others. Be curious. Be confident. Be ambitious. Be humble. Be supported. Be yourself.

You will be great. Your Parsippany family loves and supports you, and we cannot wait to see the amazing things you accomplish!

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