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What does it mean to be a first-generation college student?  These students are the first among a long line of family generations to go to college.  As a first-generation college student myself, I remember all too well the many mixed emotions I had:  excitement, happiness, hope, fear, anxiety, confusion, overwhelm.  Here are some of the difficulties I had, and some ways to combat them.Girl looking at her laptop.

Lack of Family Support

Many families have no idea where to even start with the college process. While they’re probably happy with their child deciding to go to college, it’s difficult for them to be encouraging when they haven’t experienced it themselves.  One of the best places for a high schooler to start is with their school counselor.  Meeting with their counselor is an excellent first step in deciding where to go to college (what are my interests/talents?), when to go (do I go right after high school or do I take the first year off?), and how to get there (what do I need to do right now to prepare?).

Lack of Planning

Many high schoolers haven’t “done their homework” when it comes to preparing for college.  Ideally, preparation should start as they enter high school so they take the classes needed to reach their goals.  They will also take the ACT test during the spring of their junior year, and many will retake it in the fall of their senior year.  Prep courses are offered for the ACT and SAT and extremely helpful and well worth the time.

Financial Challenges

As a high school senior, I remember the struggles I faced when deciding whether or not to go to college.  I always knew I wanted to go, but again, I didn’t know where to start.  Eventually, I decided to wait and go to college at a later time, because I was too overwhelmed to figure out how to pay for it all on my own.  I wasn’t aware that I had so many wonderful resources (even back in the early 90s!), and if I would have just asked, assistance could’ve been offered to me in so many ways.

I waited until I was 21 to attend college, and it took about nine years to earn my bachelor’s degree (going part-time and working full-time).  Yes, I made it.  Yes, it was a huge challenge.  Yes, I felt tired and overwhelmed most times.  Yes, I wished I would’ve gone to college right out of high school.  But YES, I was (and still am) so happy I persevered all on my own and have a college degree to show for it!  I also wished that back then I would’ve known about the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), which determines the amount of financial aid you can get from each school of interest, based on your family need.  It’s an easy, fast, and thorough way to get the necessary help when choosing/attending college.

Adjustment to College Life

Going away to college (even if it’s within an hour’s drive from home) can be so exciting, but so scary at the same time.  All of a sudden, a student is moving out of the family home they’ve known for 18 years…to go live on their own and start a new life.  They are now making their own meals, managing their own time, and solving their own everyday problems.  This burst of independence can be very difficult for some college freshmen.  The good news is, it DOES get BETTER!  After a certain amount of time, classes become routine, dorm life becomes fun, and independence becomes easier.

We can all agree that there are some challenges when it comes to college life.  But we can also agree that with a little tenacity, positivity, and willingness to make some lifestyle changes…college life can be a hugely rewarding and beneficial experience.