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Let’s make first-generation students thrive

By Naidelly Coelho

Editorial Staff

What does it mean to be a first-generation student?

Sometimes, I feel it’s one of the hardest titles you can ever hold. So much expectation is put upon first-generation students.

A first-generation student is the child of parents who did not complete a four-year college degree, but to me, it is much more than that.

I was born in this country but raised in Brazil. One of my parents finished high school when they were much older than the expected age.

I often saw myself comparing my parents to other students' parents who had much more successful careers such as in law, medicine, or administration.

My parents moved to this country to have a better life and mostly to provide a better life for my brother and me.

You start school and all you want to do is make your parents proud because this is an opportunity they did not have.

It’s a lot of responsibility to make my parents proud. They are paying for me to be here - using their savings to make me someone big in the future.

Making them proud is all I ever want. But nobody talks about the pressure of being a first-generation student. Students are scared to be accepted in the school or simply because they might not fit in because other students’ parents have a different background.

The guilt of possibly leaving parents with financial instability is also constant in first-generation students' minds.

First-generation students are stuck in a cycle.

Many first-generation students have to pay for their college because their parents might not have enough to provide for the family and also pay for college. This problem will cause students to pick up on a job that might compromise their studies. To be in school they need to work, but if the work is interfering with college then this creates a bigger problem.

Schools make such a big deal about first-generation students. But what are they doing to support first-generation students?

A study conducted by Education Data Initiative shows first-generation students have a 92.2% higher dropout rate than other students. Which is very shocking. But there is a reason: universities do not support first-generation students enough.

Universities are typically concerned about their retention rates, but are they thinking about ways to support students to help them graduate?

Many times I have thought about dropping out or taking a leave of absence because my part-time job was taking too much time. I am 100% sure many other first-generation students have thought once about dropping out.

Another factor that might stress a first-generation student is filling out the FAFSA form. Many institutions say they will help parents fill out the FAFSA form but one thing that they don’t know is most likely who are filling those out are the students themselves.

Students might be filling those out because parents might not have enough knowledge or there might be a language barrier. I believe schools don’t know that.

Reaching out for help is very difficult, and I can speak for that. Students may have imposter syndrome which means feeling like a fraud or doubting one’s abilities. It’s a horrible feeling to have.

Many times I have felt embarrassed asking for help because it might’ve been a dumb question.

I would say first-generation students who choose to come to a university are brave.

Universities need to have a better understanding of what first-generation students need.


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