First To Fly

For many students across America, college is a huge step and complicated process. However, for first-generation college students, college is a complete nightmare. We have many more obstacles in our path, and many questions that sometimes go unanswered. Unlike many other college students, first generation college students experience below average college access, under-representation at institutions, and higher dropout rates making it four times harder to attain the degree that they want.

While there are many reasons why students don’t have proper college access, first gens usually don’t get as much as other students because their parents haven’t experienced the college process to properly guide them through it. This commonly occurs in communities and schools where proper college prep and counseling are below standard. These students are usually surrounded by others who don’t plan on attending college, so they tend to lack peer-oriented motivation. All these factors combined make students feel as though college is not for them. As a first generation college student, I understand exactly how much pressure and confusion comes with finding and applying to colleges, having to rely on counselors and college prep to guide you through the college process, and having to share those resources with over 2000 other students with questions just like mine.

While other students have parents to ask about their college experiences, I must rely on the information I receive at school and the resources I have to scour up online. Thankfully, we have many people rooting for us to succeed in college, and plenty resources here on campus so that I haven’t had to struggle with college as much as other first gens. Unfortunately for those at smaller schools with low budgets, these resources are non existent and first gens there will struggle beyond measures while seeking information and applying to college. What’s even worse is that because it is so difficult, many students won’t even try or quit during the process.

While college students who will be first gens experience adversity, current first gen college students have their own set of college obstacles, one of them being under-representation at their universities/institutions. According to I’m First (an organization dedicated to helping current and future first generation college students) “It is estimated that 30 percent of students enrolled in postsecondary institutions today are low income, first-generation college students.”

Since only 30 percent of college students experience these difficulties, they often don’t get the proper support they need because they are not the “majority.” There are many institutions that have programs in place to help aid first gens during their college journey, but these programs are not nearly enough.

Many of my peers had greater knowledge about applying to college than I did, starting the college process before the beginning of senior year. Unfortunately, I had no idea what to do or how to do it, so while my fellow peers were applying to college when applications opened on Aug. 1, I made the wise choice of waiting until school started so I could get proper help from the college advisors here on campus. Since day one, I’ve always felt that I was three steps behind everyone else. As many people are attending college now compared to around 50 years ago, many students’ parents haven’t attended any form of college. First gens face a tough issue when we are expected to get help from our parents with college, because they have about the same amount of information about college as we do.

If first gens were better represented at all schools (high schools, universities, institutions, etc.) then maybe the obstacles would seem a little less intimidating and getting to college wouldn’t be such a nightmare. However, most importantly, if first gens received proper representation at universities, the dropout rate wouldn’t be as high and the number of first generation college students would drastically decrease.

For many first gens the most difficult part is not getting in, but actually staying in college. According to I’m First “ 89% of [first gen students enrolled in college] will not earn a bachelor’s degree six years out from high school. They drop out of college at four times the rate of their peers whose parents have a postsecondary education.”

To me the fact that 89 percent of these disadvantaged students will likely not finish college is heartbreaking. Personally, knowing that because I’m a first gen that comes from a low income family, that I only have an 11 percent chance of graduating, makes me petrified of what college will be like. These are the emotions that so many first gens experience and the reason that they do not try harder to complete college. It’s hard to argue with statistics and even harder to actually beat them. Our main goal in college is to get a degree and have a great time doing it. Unfortunately, statistically speaking, the odds are against me just because my parents didn’t attend college, a fact which is unsettling as I tackle the college process.

My hopes are that perhaps by reading about the problems first generation college students face, administrators, deans, universities, institutions and even government officials will find a way to take action in making sure that there are programs and resources set in place to help us succeed at the same rate as our peers. The fact that my parents didn’t attend college shouldn’t be as negatively influential as it is. There needs to be work done to lower these statistics to get and keep students in school. By ensuring that students will have reliable resources willing to go the extra mile to help them, first gens will surely feel more confident in applying and attending college.

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