What I Wish I Knew as a First-Generation College Grad
posted on May 31, 2019 | by Ariana Pena
For as long as I can remember, my parents had always told my sisters and me about the
importance of a college education. Having both dropped out of high school to raise my oldest
sister, they were adamant we receive the education they never could.
In my experience, advice about navigating the first-generation college experience was relatively easy to come by. It wasn’t hard to find resources on how to pick classes, how to deal with financial aid or how to adopt an “I-belong-here-too” mentally. But now that I’ve been out of college for two years, I really wish someone would have prepared me for the challenges and
complexities of being a first-generation student AFTER college.
If you are one of the first in your family to cross the stage this graduation season, keep on
reading for the top three things I wish I had known as a first-generation college graduate.
Do not rush into a full-time job or grad school because it seems like the right thing to do
As one of the first in your family to graduate, there are a lot of eyes on what you’ll do next. Will you get another degree? Will you begin a full-time job with benefits? If you don’t, was the
education you received a waste of money? The pressure to figure out your next steps right
away can be unbelievably debilitating.
For me, because I grew up believing that the payoff for receiving a college education was in
landing a higher-paying job, I nearly jumped at the first full-time salaried offer I received without a second thought. After working at that company for a short time, I quickly realized that the job I stepped into was not at all what I wanted. I was left feeling even more confused than when I first graduated.
Instead of working a full-time job right after graduation, I wish I would have considered the value of different opportunities, like taking a gap year, finding an internship, or enrolling in a service-based program like Teach For America or Americorps. While these may seem like
untraditional post-grad routes to your family, they can actually be a great way for you to further explore areas of interest and gain transferable skills without the commitment of a full-time job.
Plus, rushing into a job or a graduate program without considering other options can end up making you more confused and uncertain as to what to do next if it does not work out. So you actually may be better off working that retail or coffee shop job until you find something you are really excited about!
It’s OK if you don’t completely understand student loans
While first-generation college students may not be the only students who have difficulty in learning how to handle their student loans, I personally found the entire process to be extremely challenging (and a little embarrassing) because I couldn’t rely on my parents or other family members for advice.
Taking charge of my own loans and financial aid package meant I had to learn how to fill out forms like the FAFSA on my own and had to familiarize myself with student loan jargon (like the meaning of subsidized and unsubsidized) – all of which were things that the many parents of non-first-gen students handled (at least at my school).
When I graduated, I felt even more overwhelmed at the thought of having to pay back my student loans. I had no idea where to start or who to go to for help. If you’re dealing with the same anxieties that I had surrounding student loans – don’t panic! Remember, this is uncharted territory for you. It’s okay not to know exactly what to do and to question whether or not you’re doing it right. Don’t be afraid to seek guidance from outside resources.
Whether it be searching for articles on the internet (stay tuned for another article on the breakdown of student loans from me in June) or contacting your college’s financial aid office when you have questions, it’s so important to take advantage of the help you do have outside of your immediate family. And remember, everyone struggles with finances after college, student loan related or not, so you are not alone!
Being a first-gen graduate teaches you more than you think it does
Being among the first in your family to graduate from college is a HUGE accomplishment and
one you should feel so proud of. While I am able to understand that now, I didn’t always feel
proud of my first-generation status. In fact, I spent a lot of time in college trying to hide this fact about me.
It wasn’t until after I graduated that I realized how many skills I actually gained by navigating college without a road-map. Through those experiences, I learned how to take initiative for my own education and how to have courage when imposter syndrome crept in. I learned how to ask for help when I desperately needed guidance and persevered when I felt hopeless.
But most importantly, I learned that no matter how unfamiliar the environment may be, I am so much more capable of excelling than I give myself credit for. I am slowly realizing that the qualities I gained through my experience as a first-generation college student have been extremely valuable in the workplace and are now some of my greatest strengths. So whatever you decide to take on next, remember to do so with the utmost pride, confidence and patience.
Congratulations first-gen grad, you did it!
I’m not going to be a first-generation grad, as my mum graduated the year I started but I will be the first without a super clear after graduation plan. My mum did a nursing degree, going straight in to a full time nursing job, but I am doing a Bachelor of Science (dual majors: Psychology & Human Physiology) which doesn’t have a super clear path. I think I’m just going to see where the path takes me when I get to that stage.
I’m not a first-generation grad but my dad stressed the importance of going to college and getting a job because he was afraid of what would happen if he wasn’t here one day and we weren’t ready to handle life. Anyways, I agree on what you had to say about not rushing into things. Because my dad stressed the importance of college so much, I ended up majoring in something I wasn’t interested in. It wasn’t until recent that I realized this isn’t what I want and now I feel like it’s too late to start over with a new major because at this point in my life I need to start on my career. If I wouldv’e just taken my time with college I would have been more likely to find a major that I enjoy. With big life decisions it’s always important to take your time.
Hi! I can resonate pretty much with everything in this article. I was the first one in my family to go to college and I had to figure out everything on my own. Like figuring out FAFSA, part-time jobs, living situation, EVERYTHING. I am super thankful for the whole experience because it thought me so many valuable life skills and gave me the courage to believe in myself. Thank you for the article, it feels nice knowing that I am not alone in this struggle. Right now I am working as an office assistant in a law firm and I believe it’s a great job right after college because it gives me the freedom and time to look into other job opportunities carefully. Instead of jumping into the first one coming my way only because I am desperate to have a job. Although the pressure to have a job right after college is incredibly stressful.
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