Tips for first generation students
Going to college can be a daunting experience for anyone. But when you are the first person in your family to take this important step, the pressure can be increased tenfold and the doubts endless. Will I pass my courses? How to take out a student loan? Do I even belong here?
While the unique challenges facing first generation students are real, there are practical steps students can take to ease the transition to college. Chapman University students Victor Jacinto ’23 and Clarissa Cordova ’20 share insider tips for first generation success and getting the most out of the college experience.
1. Adopt the first generation identity
As a first generation student, you might be reluctant to share your family history in college. But instead of hiding your past, embrace it, says Jacinto. Use your story to access your school’s First Generation Club and other similar resources designed exclusively for first generation students.
âBeing the first in your family to attend college means you don’t know exactly what it will be like in terms of academic and social environments. For me, joining programs like Chapman’s First Generation Ambassadors made the transition a lot easier and helped me find my place at Chapman, âhe says. Add Cordoba, Chapman’s first generation community is a very strong. âJust know that you are joining a community of people who support each other, so be ready to join a big family. ”
2. “Find your people”
It is always more heartwarming to navigate the unknowns of college life with friends by your side. âSometimes you feel like an impostor, like college might not be the best fit for you,â says Jacinto. âBut that’s only because you haven’t found your people – those with whom you can share the experience and who can reassure you that you, in fact, have your place,â he said. Don’t worry about fitting in. Be open about who you are and what your interests are, and you’ll find it easier to attract friends.
3. Connect to a network
Connecting with student organizations and clubs is a critical way to start building support networks. The reality is that after you graduate from college, who you know is arguably just as important as your GPA. So, start talking to people and cultivating relationships. âTake advantage of the people you meet through networking, as they can be a source of help later,â says Cordova.
4. Get out of your comfort zone
âDon’t be afraid to go out there and try new things,â Jacinto says. âI didn’t expect to be on the board of the first generation ambassadors, but by getting involved in the program and working with other board members, I got the job. Cordova says that join Chapman University’s Promising Future Program inspired her to launch Chapman’s First-Generation Ambassadors. His desire to connect with more first generation students across campus ultimately became a defining moment in his college career. “This club has greatly influenced my university experience as it has brought me to work with a community of people who support and encourage each other.”
5. Make the most of office hours
If you sometimes feel confused during a conference but are too shy to ask a question, don’t stress. Professors’ office hours can be a productive time to ask questions in a stress-free environment. If you feel intimidated by the idea of ââmeeting your teacher, try to prepare in advance: make a list of questions you have or topics you would like to discuss. As an added bonus, attending office hours is also a great way to make sure your teachers know who you are. This type of visibility will come in handy if you ever need, for example, a letter of recommendation.
6. Be careful
Applying for a student loan can become quite overwhelming for anyone. You may be offered a loan amount greater than what you actually need. So, before signing on the dotted line, it is essential that you do your research. Visit your financial aid office and ask questions about everything from the type of loan you take out to what the payments will look like in the future. The more financial education you have, the better equipped you will be to handle student loans responsibly.
7. Defend yourself
As a first generation student, there is often an underlying fear that if you ask for help, you might be referred to as someone who does not belong. Cordova advises putting fear aside. Be relentless to get the answers you need. âAlways stand up for yourself. Email everyone you know when you need something. Someone has the answer. There are always resources available, so make sure you don’t overlook anything. Â»Stay at the center of your university career.
Learn more about First Generation Programs at Chapman.