Tips for First-Gen College Students
College is known as a rite of passage for many young adults across the globe. Since childhood, we would watch movies in which a young protagonist would be making their own journey to their dream school or following in their parents footsteps as a legacy to a university. Our entire educational lives revolve around the concept of eventually going to college ourselves and picking a career path. It’s such a commonality, an expectation in our society, it almost feels as if the whole process should be instinctual. So what happens when it’s not?
As the oldest of my siblings and the first generation in my family to be born in the U.S, a lot of things that other kids my age may have seen as typical, were completely new to me. From something so seemingly small like mispronouncing every other word I spoke to not knowing all of the states, I constantly felt embarrassed and like I was behind the curve. As a result, when college application season came around in my senior year of high school, everything felt even more overwhelming than I would have ever expected.
Thankfully, I had a wonderful counselor to guide me through the process that made me feel completely lost. But not everyone might have that luck. So, I wrote down these tips in hopes of helping out other students going through this exciting, albeit nerve-wracking, time!
Use the data-retrieval tool when filling out your FAFSA
Filling out FAFSA for the first time was probably the most stressful moment of my college experience, but it really didn’t need to be! As a seventeen year old, I had no idea how taxes worked and my mom was totally new to the whole FAFSA thing, so we were both clueless on how to navigate the website. The looming fear of accidentally submitting false information was also an anxiety-inducing factor (I was TERRIFIED of being sent to prison for messing up on a number!). All of these fears and stresses would have been eliminated if I had just used the IRS data-retrieval tool that FAFSA has incorporated in their site. You simply input your parent(s)’ or guardians information (and/or your own!) into the tool and it finds the tax information then automatically inputs all the data into FAFSA for you. Whatever is left is just personal questions like addresses and how many siblings you have. It’s extremely easy, fast, and saves you a lot of hassle in the future!
Pack and plan accordingly!
This one kind of only applies if you intend on living on campus, but could also totally work for general life advice as well! Moving into a college dorm is so exciting; it’s a moment of huge personal growth and independence, and is unforgettable! The nerves and stress will undoubtedly be there, as it’s new territory, but preparing properly can definitely help ease the flow of things. That includes trying not to overpack, which was something I absolutely struggled with. If you’re flying to another state to attend school, packing lightly will help lessen the cost of your baggage; if you’re driving up, it’ll help the unloading process go much faster! Not to mention, dorms don’t always have a lot of storage space so you’ll be able to fit everything much more easily if you pack only the necessities first. Of course, you may be worrying if you have everything you need, but trust yourself! And if you realize you have more space than you thought, you can always bring up more things over winter break!
Familiarize yourself with your new campus
While this may seem a bit like common sense, let me explain; you’re surely going to explore your new home away from home when you arrive, but it’s a good idea to get a feeling for it before you head up there too. If you’re fortunate enough to take a trip and visit the campus in person, then great! That will definitely be a fun time to get to know your school. However, don’t fret if you’re unable to do that: with modern technology (thank you, Google!) you’re able to take a look around from the comfort of your own bed! I used Google Maps Street View to scope out my campus, my dorm, and the surrounding area to ease my nerves. This was especially useful as I was going across the country by myself for the first time. I was able to get street names, building names, and a ton of other important information so I didn’t feel like I was walking around blindly. It may seem like a small thing, but it really does help you feel more comfortable. Plus, you can show your family where you’ll be at too so they feel more at ease as well!
These are some of the most memorable bumps I navigated through during my first year of college, but everyone’s experiences are unique to them! Whether you’re studying in a neighboring city, state, or going abroad to another country, these tips should help smooth out the process for most situations. And keep in mind that there will be hiccups now and again, but everyone has some dips to deal with. Keep trucking on, you’ve got a lot to look forward to!