My Experience as a First Generation College Student
As a rising sophomore at Stony Brook University, I often find myself reflecting on the obstacles I overcame as a “first generation college student”. The term is defined as someone who is the first person in their immediate family to attend a four year college and obtain a Bachelor’s degree. I fall into this category since neither of my parents posses degrees. In the span of just two short years, I navigated the college admissions process all on my own, got accepted to 10 out of the 11 schools I applied to, and survived a very strenuous freshmen year. Looking back, the whole experience was very rewarding but also one of the most stressful things I’ve ever encountered.
Although I didn’t know which career path I wanted to pursue until my junior year of high school, I was keen on attending college from a very young age. Both of my parents encouraged me to keep learning. However, due to them being immigrants from Bangladesh, they didn’t fully understand the American education system. Other parents are very involved with the admissions process as they push their children to attend private SAT tutoring, tour campuses, and apply for various extracurriculars. As a first generation college student, I relied on my teachers, guidance counselor, and the internet to get information on how to get into college.
I learned about everything colleges consider when it comes to admissions such as grades, the SAT, personal essay, recommendation letters, and extracurriculars. After studying for a month from a shady prep book my dad purchased for 80 cents from a shady website, I took the SAT on March 2016. Surprisingly, I did pretty well so the next step was making a list of all the colleges I wanted to apply to. By this point, I already knew I wanted major in Biology and become a dentist. I narrowed down a mixture of 11 reach and safety schools I would be applying to. My guidance counselors helped immensely with explaining how the Common App works and since I went to a small high school, it was relatively easy to find teachers who were willing to write me a letter of recommendation. Luckily, the first assignment in my 12th grade English class was tackling the college personal essay. Due to this, I was able to get a lot of help from my teacher and peer polishing one of the most important paper I had ever written.
Extracurriculars and finances were my biggest challenges with the college admissions process. Until my sophomore year of high school, I thought only my grades would get me into college. I had no idea my peers were seeking out internships and special programs. Even though I worked throughout the summers during high school, I missed out on many internship opportunities in my field mainly due to being unaware. I simply didn’t know where to look and by the time I found out, the application period had ended. Luckily I was able to spice up my college application with one internship and securing high positions in two different student organizations at my high school.
Soon, all the acceptances kept flooding in and I found myself with a very big decision to make: which college would I be going to? I had a lot of criterias to consider. Public or private school? What can my family afford? Would I be dorming or commuting? After talking things out with my parents, we all decided that it’s best that I attend one of the public institutions in my state. The private universities had many great things to offer but I didn’t want to be ridden with loans so early. This is mainly because I plan on attending dental school in the future, which is notorious for being expensive. I chose to enroll in Stony Brook University as a resident student due to comparably cheap tuition, excellent biology program, and close location.
A few months later, I officially became a college student. However, it was nothing like I expected. I found myself struggling as my courses were a lot harder than what I was used to. I didn’t understand how the requirements for majors worked. Also, there were so many policies to keep track of ranging from dorming, health, and classes. Confusion engulfed me for a long time.
One of the most important things I learned during this period is to ask for help. During orientation, I was encouraged to register for a higher level calculus class which proved to be detrimental. As the semester progressed, I was performing horribly. After a lot of hesitation, I spoke to my advisor and let her know that I was concerned about actually failing this class. By going through the policies with me, she helped me figure out how I could complete this class without having it affect my GPA.
Although the road was difficult for me, being a first generation college student has inspired me to take my education seriously. I grew up on the lower end of the economic spectrum and my dream is to give my family a better life for always supporting me. That’s why I understand how valuable attending college is because I’m here to learn and work towards becoming a dentist. When I find myself struggling, it’s my responsibility to reach out for help. I’m an adult now and nothing’s going to be handed to me like it was in high school. Overall, I’m very proud to be the first in my family to attend college because it made the resilient and independent person I am today.