“Where do I start?” – The Story of a First Generation College Student

A first generation college student is an individual pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree or higher whose parents had not done the same, making them the first in their family to attend college. These students commonly come from families with low-incomes and little education. 

As a “first gen,” navigating the college process can be overwhelming, puzzling, and seemingly impossible, especially if the student does not have resources to assist them during this time. 

As a soon to be first generation college student myself, I have a few tricks up my sleeve when it comes to making the college process manageable, and I’ve been able to transform it from a terrifying to an exciting part of my life. 

Tip #1: Deciding your preferences 

When it comes to searching for a college, I believe the best thing to do first is to establish what you want and need in a school. Would you rather have a school with 2,000, 20,000, or 200,000 students? Private or public? Religious or non-religious? How far away from home? Do they have the right program for my major? Deciding these preferences up front can narrow down your search for schools drastically.

The College Board offers a tool, Big Future, to help narrow all of your preferences into the schools that match what you prefer. With an easy to navigate system, you fill in everything of importance to you, and the system sends back all of the schools in the nation that satisfy those needs. 

From there, you can explore the schools that best fit your preferences to further decide the one for you. 

Tip #2: Go on as many college visits as possible 

If you’re unfamiliar with the college process, you may assume that you should only visit the college you’re set on going to. This is a dangerous misconception that prevents students from getting a personal experience with a potential school. 

BBCHS Student Counselor Tina Boseo was a first gen herself. In an interview about her process, I asked her, “What are some things you wished you were told during the college process?” She replied,  “When I was going through the college application process I was never encouraged (or told) to visit the campus. Also, my parents were not supportive of me attending a public university as they thought it was large and dangerous (again, they had no idea…this was just their perception).  Personally, I was most interested in a larger public university because I was seeking a larger school climate with vast opportunities. My graduating class in high school had 1,100 students and I needed an experience that felt much larger than high school. However, this was a tough conversation with my parents and we had to work together to figure out a University that we could ALL agree on.  Most of my college exploration took place with conversations from friends that visited colleges and learned what schools had to offer from their visit (not my visit).  This was not an ideal situation but it was helpful to hear someone else’s experience from a trusted source.” 

By going on college visits, you are able to explore the school firsthand and get a feel for the community and culture that it provides that you just can’t get from a website or a letter. 

Tip #3: Communicate with your parents

Although your parents have not gone to college themselves, it is of extreme importance to communicate with them so you’re on the same page about your future. 

Things of importance to consider are how you will be paying for school, their preferences in a school for you, how far away they want you from home, and any other matters that are specific to your situation. 

By communicating with your parents, you will feel much less alone in the process and will know what their expectations for you are. 

Tip #4: Take advantage of what you high school has to offer

At BBCHS, our amazing counseling department offers a variety of resources to assist upperclassmen, including some specifically for first gens. These resources include: 

  • College application and FAFSA workshops
  • Annual first generation college tour: the counseling department takes first generation students to visit a public and private college where they are given advice about how colleges can support them specifically  
  • Regional Kankakee Area College Fair
  • BBCHS Common App Scholarships 

While the college process can be uncomfortable and unchartered territory, being mindful of your own experiences and taking advantage of the resources available can dramatically change and better your experience.