Attending and graduating from a college or a university is an integral part of the American Dream. The quintessential rite of achievement, it is an institution of higher learning that increases a graduate’s chances to get that dream job and get him or her on a fast track to an amazing career. However, not a lot of people are privileged to go to college – financial, social and emotional struggles oftentimes prevent individuals from ever taking that next step in their educational career, no matter how hard they may want to attend a college. Indeed, it is a a cause for celebration when a high-school graduate becomes the first in the family to attend a college or a university. But the trials and tribulations may be far from over long after that acceptance letter arrives in the mail – many first-generation college students face challenges that are uniquely different from those of s typical college student, and that may make a college experience that much harder for them.
It is very important, especially for college freshmen, to have some sort of a support system during the tough times of acclimating to a college life. While many new college students can always feel like they can talk about their school-related difficulties with their parents, who have already been through similar experiences in their past, many first-generation college students do not have such an option. It is entirely up to them to make sense of the often chaotic college life – to figure out how to get a work-study job, how to cram for an exam or how to write a college-level paper – because their parents, most likely, never had to go through anything like that in the span of their lives. Speaking to an academic and financial adviser can ease the situation and alleviate the confusion a bit, but for a college freshman, the adult responsibilities of managing his or her life, in addition to all the stress from classes and school work, can still be too much.
In this situation, it is important to find a support group, outside of the family circle, to discuss problems and to derive solutions. A guidance couselor or a therapist can help first-generation college students manage their stress and remain calm. Student health centers often offer such counseling services and, if a student is in need of some financial help, counselors can usually reduce their hourly fee to a lower rate. Help is always available to college students, if they know where to find it and when to admit to themselves that they really need professional help.
Many schools have a special program that has been created specifically to help first-generation college students. This program is called The Freshman Empowerment Program (FEP) and it has been designed to support at-risk freshmen as they make that transition from high school to college. The program’s organizers make a lot of effort to help first-generation college students become active thinkers and develop a mentality conducive to active and passionate learning. This experimental program proved to be successful thus far, as the results indicate that GPA was significantly higher for those students involved in the program compared to similar students who chose not to be involved.
First-generation students often face the risk of alienation from family support if they decide to attend college. These students experience a shock of balancing two different cultures: the one that exists with the family who have no college experience with the one that students are engrossed in while attending college. The tension and alienation can arise as a result of the, often, competing moral obligations – especially evident when students are living away at college and are faced with problems different from those of their parents. Students may be preoccupied with their grades, social lives, leadership responsibilites, while the parents may be too busy struggling with bills and health issues to accept their college-age children’s problems as legtimate. Some parents still view a college education as a priviledge and frivility.
Students who are stuck in a limbo between their parents and school should work with their college advisers who can establish a mediator-like relationship to help students and parents understand each other better. While academic advisers are not equipped with everything they need to ensure the success of the first-generation college students, they are equipped with strategies and connections to resources that can help ease the tension between parents and their college-age children. Ultimately, if the parents are against a mediator intruding in their lives, they can still see that their children are desperately trying to establish lines of communication with them, and then may even eventually warm up and ease up on their college kids.
Another struggle is paying for college itself. Along with miscellaneous expenses, such as food, books and clothes, college costs can skyrocket and become unmanageable to even those students whose parents can financially support them. First-generation college students often have it even tougher, as their family usually has only a limited amount of money to contribute to their sons’ or their daughters’ college education. Even if the tuition costs are covered by grants, loans and scholarships, there is still the dilemma of other expenses. As a result, first-generation students balance working while attending school full-time or possibly working full-time and attending school only part-time.
Getting a job can, often, alleviate some of the financial burden felt by the first-generation students in college, but the long, strenuous hours can reflect themselves negatively on a student’s academic progress. Often, jobs start gaining importance over school, and students can find themselves struggling in their classes, unable to keep up with their professors’ teaching and the daily or weekly homework assignments.
Work-study jobs are often the best solution if college students needs a lower-stress, felxible hour job that still pays a decent amount of money. A work-study job is usually affiliated with a college or a university, so the employers, by law, cannot allow students work for more than twenty hours a week. This schedule is beneficial for students because they can make money, while still having time to spend on their studies.
Another option is to apply to be a resident advisor at one of the college dormitories. This job comes with a free room and board and that can save a lot of money every year for a first-generation college student with limited funds. This job requires a student to have a certain level of responsibility as he or she is usually incharge of the entire floor of college students and their conduct. However, it is a great job to both develop interpersonal skills, to strive in a leadership position, all the while enjoying the perks of free student housing.
The good thing about college is that it offers a numerous number of help services and facilities specifically college students in need of special attention. It is, without doubt, exceptionally tough for first-generation college students to cope with the struggles and difficulties of a college life – after all, they have many more worries hovering over their head, in addition to simply coping with all the normal struggles of being a college student. With the available resources and enough perseverance, however, there is no reason for first-generation students to not succeed and obtain a college education. As with every first, students who are first in their family to go to college can set positive examples to their brothers, sisters, sons, daughters and relatives – allowing themselves and their family a chance for a better future.