My College Journey as a First-Gen Student / Mi Camino Universitario como Estudiante “First-Gen”

Photo by Eliana Sammons/ Foto por Eliana Sammons

The Spanish version of this post can be found below the English translation.

I have come to the conclusion that we don’t really know ourselves until we leave home. I mean, sure, we know what our hobbies are, our likes and dislikes, maybe what we want to do with our life and what our favorite color is… but we don’t know ourselves yet. Not really.

For me, I didn’t know that upon entering college I would be given the title of “first generation college student” . I didn’t even know until filling out the college applications that neither of my parents had a bachelor’s degree.

Weird, I know, but hear me out!

Education was always stressed as being the most important thing that I was responsible for. It was never a question of “if” I would go to college to my parents; no, it was always a question of “when”. So, I never thought to ask if they had degrees, or what they studied. Kids are weird is all I have to say.

So, I don’t really have a story of defying incredible odds of getting good grades in high school, or knowing that I needed to apply to colleges… I always had people in my life to guide me, and those that also set incredible examples. I had guidance counselors in my IB program and, moreover, I had older friends who had already gone through the whole “scholarship/ college admissions” dance.

And I already loved to dance. So I thought, “bring it on!”

But, while I never felt the distance between my friends’ admissions experiences and mine while it was happening, the differences became stark to me once I finally began my UF journey.

First, those of us who go to school in the United States must all be familiar with the term “FAFSA”.

Yes, that long dreaded but incredibly necessary and confusing financial document that all incoming and current university students must fill out to be eligible for financial aid.

Well, for me this process was more than just a boring piece of paperwork. It was then that I realized the weight of just how much of the college experience I was going to have to figure out as I went.

Truly flying by the seat of my pants.

My parents, having never gone through the admissions process before, were not sure how to help me fill out the paperwork. So, through research and careful examination of tax forms, I figured out how to fill out the FAFSA and submit it on time.

While the FAFSA is just one example of the confusion that I felt in the admissions process, it serves as an example of the countless times that I felt overwhelmed, scared and unprepared for college.

Not to mention the serious imposter syndrome that I felt.

At every turn I was wondering if I was doing things right, if the admissions teams would see me as a quality candidate and if I would be able to compete with kids who had tutors for the SAT. Suddenly my score looked mediocre next to the 1450’s and 1500’s of my classmates.

The term “first-gen” began to get into my head, whereas before the idea had never even occurred to me as being a problem.

Second, when I received my letter of acceptance into the freshman class of 2018, it was under the condition that I participate in a program called AIM. Basically, this program was meant to assist low-income, first generation students in their transition from high school to college.

Complete with mentors, a scholarship, workshops, summer admission and report cards, the program did everything in its’ power to ensure that our freshman year had structure and guidance.

Looking back, I understand the purpose of the program, and I am grateful for the opportunities that it gave me. However, at the time I was more interested in my place that I had earned in the honors program, and I wanted nothing to do with AIM. 

What now seems incredibly arrogant, then seemed justified because I thought that UF assumed I couldn’t succeed in college without them holding my hand. As a very organized and studious person, I scoffed at the administration thinking I needed to get my teachers to sign a report card, that I needed a mentor to check up on me or even that I needed to come to UF before fall semester to get my footing.

I was confident in my abilities, and hell-bent on proving that I didn’t need help.

Of course, that is not true for anyone, even the most successful among us. Everyone needs help, and my pride is a point of shame for me, even now.

Third, and I think the most important part of college as a first-gen student, was learning how to get the most out of the college experience.

All I really wanted to do was prove my place at UF.

So, taking the advice of every professor to get experience outside the classroom, I quickly started to build my LinkedIn presence, professionalize my social media (communications majors know), acquire professional clothes and learn from what other people were doing.

It took a while to find a healthy balance between work and play (I still struggle with that now), because I was volunteering for whatever I could and also working almost 30 hours a week at Chipotle during a 17 credit semester my freshman fall.

No amount of advice could stop me from working hard to erase the stigma I felt against being first-gen.

Now, I look back on my first year of college and laugh a little bit.

One, because I truly believed that if I was idle for a moment I would not belong at UF, and two, because I thought that everyone expected me to not acclimate well to the move, living on my own or to the rigor of college classes.

I realize now, as I am just a few days away from starting my final year at UF, that I was just scared. Scared of many things, but most of all myself. I didn’t know who I was going to be, as very few do at 18, and I was holding on so tightly to the image of what I thought I wanted to be.

Studious. Hard-working. Successful. Someone to whom others come for college and career advice.

I have since decided that the path I was on would inevitable lead me to be a workaholic. Distant. Cold. And far too involved in my accomplishments to realize the worth and value of family, friends and rest.

That isn’t who I want to be. Not to myself, my husband, my friends or the kids that we will have years from now.

So, at 20 I think I have a firmer grasp on how I want to develop, and I feel less, but still some (I’m working on it), pressure to materialize my worth through internships, resumes and awards.

My journey as a first-gen college student was definitely unique, and now I can truly say that I am grateful for the opportunities and experiences it gave me.

Thank you for reading!

Are you a first-gen student? Have you every felt a sense of imposter syndrome, or the need to prove yourself?

Let me know in the comments below! I would love to talk about these really big feelings with you all!

Until next time,

Tori 🙂

Mi Camino Universitario como Estudiante “First-Gen”

He decidido que no se sabemos quienes somos hasta que salimos de la casa natal. De verdad, sabemos nuestros pasatiempos, nuestros gustos y disgustos, quizás lo que queramos hacer con nuestras vidas y qué es nuestro color favorito… pero no se sabemos quienes somos ya. 

A mi, no yo sabía que yo era una estudiante “first-gen” hasta que me matriculé en la Universidad de Florida. Incluso, no la sabía, hasta que yo estaba llenando mi solicitud de la universidad, que mis padres no tenía títulos académicos. 

Extraño, yo sé, pero déjame explicar.  

La educación era siempre destacada en mi familia como la cosa importantísima en mi vida. No era una cuestión de “si” iría a la universidad; no, siempre era una pregunta de “cuando”. Así que, yo nunca pensaba preguntar si mis padres asistieron a la universidad. Los niños son peculiares, ¿no? 

De hecho, no tengo una gran historia de superar circunstancias dificilísimas para tener buenas notas en escuela, o en el conocimiento que yo necesitaba matricular en la universidad. Yo siempre tenía personas para guiarme y ser buenos ejemplos. Yo tenía consejeras en mi programa de IB y, asimismo, tenía amigos más adelante en sus estudios quienes ya habían hecho el baile de becas y matriculaciones. 

Yo ya quería bailar, así pensé “¡venga el desafío!”

Pero, aunque yo nunca sentía la distancia entre las experiencias de mis amigos y las de yo, me la aparece cuando yo comencé mi camino en UF. 

Primero, los estudiantes que asistir a escuela en los Estados Unidos son familiares con el término, FAFSA. 

Sí, esa tan temido, pero necesario y confuso, documento financiero que cada estudiante debe completar para ser elegible por becas. 

A mi, ese proceso era más que un papel aburrido. Fue esta situación en que me di cuenta que había cosas que necesitaría aprender sola. 

De verdad, yo estaba haciendo decisiones que no yo entendía. 

Mis padres, sin títulos, no sabían como ayudarme con los papeles de las solicitudes de ingresos. Así, a través de investigación y examinación de papeles de impuestos, me di cuenta como completar el FAFSA, y entregarlo a tiempo. 

Mientras el FAFSA es solamente un ejemplo de la confusión que sentía en el proceso, lo servía como ejemplo perfecto de los tiempos en que sentía abrumada, temida y no preparada por la universidad. 

No incluso el síndrome del impostor que yo tenía. 

A cada vuelta yo me preguntaba si yo hacía cosas en la manera correcta, si el equipo de ingreso creía que yo era una estudiante buena y si yo podría competir con mis compañeros que tuvieron tutores por el SAT. De repente mi nota en el SAT me parece menos impresionante al lado de los 1450 y 1500 de otros niños en mis clases. 

El término “first-gen” comenzó de aparecer a mi, cuando antes la idea nunca me ha ocurrido como problema. 

Segundo, cuando recibí mi carta de aceptación como estudiante de primer año en UF, me requería que yo participara en un programa llamado AIM. Básicamente, este programa existe para ayudar a estudiantes de familias con menos recursos y “first-gen” en la transición entre la escuela y la universidad. 

Completada con mentores, una beca, talleres académicos, ingreso en el verano y boletines, el programa servía para asegurar que eses estudiantes tenían estructura y guías en un nuevo lugar. 

Ahora, entiendo el propósito del programa, y soy agradecida por las oportunidades que me lo dio. Pero, durante mi tiempo en AIM, yo era más interesada en mi posición en el colegio del honor en UF, y no quería ser activa en la comunidad del AIM. 

Que ahora puedo reconocer como arrogancia, entonces me parecía justificado porque yo pensaba que UF no creía que yo podía tener éxito en la universidad sin su ayuda. Como una persona tan organizada y estudiosa, me mofaba a la idea que la administración necesitaba ayudarme en la transición. Me parecía facilísima. 

Yo era segura en mis habilidades, y decidida en demostrar que yo no necesitaba ayuda. 

Por supuesto, esta no es la verdad por ninguna persona, incluso las más exitosas.  Cada persona requiere ayuda, y mi orgullo es un punto de vergüenza para mi, incluso hoy. 

Tercero, y lo más importante, era mi aprendizaje de cómo conseguir la mejor de la experiencia universitaria. 

Todo que yo quería hacer era probar mi lugar en UF. 

Así que, tomé los consejos de todos mis profesores de hacer experiencias profesionales afuera de la clase. Rápidamente, desarrollé mi presencia en LinkedIn, profesionalicé mis redes sociales (como saben personas que estudien comunicaciones), compré ropa profesional y aprendí de otras personas. 

Hacía mucho tiempo para buscar un balance entre trabajar y jugar (todavía tengo problemas con este), porque yo era voluntaria para muchas cosas, yo estaba trabajando casi 30 horas cada semana en Chipotle durante un semestre de 17 créditos en el otoño de 2018. 

No era consejo que podía párame de trabajar para borrar el estigma que yo sentía acercando de siendo “first-gen”. 

Ahora, pienso de mi primer año en la universidad y sonrío. 

Uno, porque yo creía que, si yo paré por uno minuto, yo no era una estudiante buena, y dos, porque yo creía que cada persona tenía una expectación que yo no podía tener éxito como una estudiante nueva. 

Hoy, como una estudiante quién va a comenzar su año final de la universidad, entiendo que yo solamente temía muchas cosas en mi primer año. Pero más que nada, de yo mismo. No yo sabía quién era, como nadie sabe cuando tiene 18 años, y yo estaba enfocando tanto en la imagen de quién yo quería ser. 

Estudiosa. Trabajadora. Exitosa. Alguien que puede dar consejos a otras personas de la universidad o carreras. 

Yo he decidido que mi camino anterior haría una persona que es adicta al trabajo. Distante. Fría. Y tan involucrada en mis logros para reconocer el valor de mi familia, amigos y descanso. 

Esa tipa de persona no la quiero ser. No a yo mismo, a mi esposo, a mis amigos o a nuestros niños en los años lejos que viene. 

Así, a 20 años, pienso que tengo una idea más fija de quien soy, y siento menos presión de demostrar mi valor a través de mi trabajo. 

Mi camino como estudiante “first-gen” es única, y ahora puedo decir que soy agradecible por las oportunidades y experiencias que me dio.


¡Gracias por leer!

¿Sea estudiante “first-gen”? ¿Sienta una necesidad de demostrar su valor a través de su trabajo? 

¡Dígame en los comentarios debajo que piensas! ¡Quiero hablar contigo! 

Hasta luego, 

Tori 🙂

7 thoughts on “My College Journey as a First-Gen Student / Mi Camino Universitario como Estudiante “First-Gen””

  1. I think we all look back at our first months at college or university and laugh at our 18 year old selves’ naivety, self belief and foolishness. Sounds like you’re gaining a wealth of experience and knowledge, don’t forget the benefits of letting go too though. I wish I had been as clear minded at 21 as you are.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for reading and commenting! I am glad to know that everyone feels weird about themselves in the first year of university – it feels much like a shared experience after I’ve talked to people about it. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Everything feels more common when we share and someone replies that they experienced the same. From university naivety to feeling like the only parent whose 1yr old tantrums and anything else. Keep sharing, I’ll keep reading. I love your style and bilingual accessibility.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Going back to college after being away from my negative parents made all the difference! I am a First-Gen college student as well and never even considered asking my parents of their experiences.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for commenting! I think it is half the battle kinda figuring out what your life will look like taking a different path than what your family members have, but I think that is also one of the rewarding parts – you get to know that your studies are your own! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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