First generation pressures

Photo courtesy of Allie Ghisson, Student Publications

One thing that I did not expect to have such an impact on my college career was my parents’ lack of college careers. 

I am considered a first-generation college student. Though both my mom and dad completed high school, neither of them, nor anyone else in my family has completed a college degree. 

This is not out of the ordinary for my hometown. I am from a small town of less than 15,000 people in southern New Hampshire. A former manufacturing economy, my town has seen economic decline, though many are still employed by factories. My parents are actually both factory workers, an occupation that certainly does not require a college education. 

I knew from very early on that my path would be different than theirs. 

Since I was in kindergarten and showed distinction in the areas of counting and reading picture books, everyone in my family made it clear that I would be going to college. My grandmother started a college fund, something that older generations had never had the luxury of. It was always a given that I would attend higher education through any means necessary. 

That is why it was a family-wide accomplishment when I got my Tech acceptance letter. Though I really do value my entire family’s support, it has made me feel like the pressure to graduate from Tech and to get a well-paying job in the tech-industry is enormous. I am my family’s investment, and most likely their only retirement plan.

Though Tech does not publish the numbers, US News reports that 15% of Tech undergrads are first-gen. This is relatively low when compared to other public universities with similar programs: 25% of University of Illinois, 26% of MIT, and 35% of University of California Berkeley undergraduate students are the first in their family to attend college. 

This low density of people with similar backgrounds can be alienating at times. I do not know anyone else with similar experiences to mine. My friends can call up their parents to ask for advice about what or how many classes to take, career advice or even how to balance their social life. Being a first generation college student means not being able to fully relate to your peers, but no longer being able to relate to or ask for help from your parents. 

In addition to that, while Tech offers great programs like the Georgia First Pathway Program to help first-gen Georgia residents get admitted, there is little extra support once they arrive to campus. There is a lot more to college than simply going to lectures and taking exams, something I did not truly realize before I started at Tech. Since my first day of classes, I have pretty much been figuring it out as I go. 

Things like navigating the how to pay for the momentus cost of higher education is one of the best examples of this. Since neither of my parents went to college, they have no idea how to go about applying for financial aid and scholarships or how to fill out the FAFSA. Every single year I struggle through my parents’ tax documents, finding the relevant information to fill out the necessary forms. Reaching out to the Georgia Tech’s Financial Aid Office for help and advice is rarely successful. 

I know I am extremely lucky to have been accepted to this school, to have the opportunity to study here and to go to college at all. My transition into college was rockier than many of my peers, but I have been figuring it out. I can not be the only one. 

In a study, UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute found that first generation college students are 14.7% less likely to graduate than other students. I would like to see Georgia Tech provide more support for its first generation students since going to school here is stressful enough.