Going to college is a large milestone for many. It is that next, expected step for many of us whether we have any real desire to go or not. College is supposed to be that key to unlock a successful future, and while the job market doesn’t always agree with that, there is still pressure to pursue and dominate higher education. That pressure is felt even more so when you’re the first person in your house to obtain your degree.
Growing up, I never imagined I would be the first person in my immediate family to not only earn my undergraduate degree, but my master’s as well. I was the youngest, the shy girl, the one that doubted herself every single day. Yet here I sit at 23 holding the privilege of my education in my hands. Neither of my parents had degrees (my mother would later return to school) and my older sister opted out of college after high school. So it was just me, and let me just say the experience was as challenging as it was rewarding.
First, as a first generation college student you don’t always have as much support in the process of applying for school, surviving school, or even preparing for your post graduate life. Everyone around is pretty much clueless, but they DO know one thing…. they expect you to figure it out and succeed. I struggled early on preparing for undergrad, and ended up only applying to one school just from the amount of stress. Luckily I was accepted which made my family extremely proud.
While in school however, there is also a strong divide between you and your family as they don’t understand what it’s really like to be a student. They don’t understand why you’re always tired, why you may not be answering your phone, why your mental health is in shambles, or why you gained/lost so much weight. To them you are off doing this great thing, and they don’t always see just how much you are facing. This also leads them to drop family drama on your shoulders, even if you are miles away and unable to assist. Suddenly your problem of finishing a 10 page paper doesn’t seem worthy of mentioning when your family is concerned with a pile of bills.
And of course there can be a lack of understanding once graduation hits. If you’re like many millennials, an automatic job just didn’t line up as planned. You find yourself having to move back home or with a bunch of roommates. Gone is your freedom, your right to get excessively intoxicated, or date whoever wherever whenever. You’re back to explaining yourself. You’re family asks you a bunch of questions you just don’t have the answers to. You were supposed to get the degree and be successful… what happened?
I shut my family out from a lot of my experiences as a student, and often felt isolated being surrounded by others with families full of college graduates. But I also realized that me being the first was a great opportunity to set an example for my younger siblings, my nephew, and even family who decided to finish school later in life. While college may not have been my experience growing up, I know that I can change that for family members following behind me.
Overall, it’s tough being the first. We all carry the milestone with pride, and yet have all felt the pang of isolation that the responsibility carries. It’s important to focus on how you can now create a different environment for yourself and those around you. Stand in your identity, celebrate yourself, but most importantly be patient with your journey towards success. It’s going to happen for you like it will happen for me. Just gotta wait on it!