The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Breaking down doors


A reflection on being a first gen student

Before I came to St. Joe’s, my parents would occasionally mention the idea of college to me when I was in high school, but I always naively assumed it was too expensive for my parents to afford.

I never thought I would actually be going to college. That was before my parents and I would visit colleges, and I found out about of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA).

Even then, it didn’t really sink in that I would actually be going to college, or even choosing St. Joe’s until Admitted Students Day.

But as a senior, I’m starting to reflect on my past three years here, and I realize that I have admittedly lost sight of what being a first generation student means to me personally.

One of the most complicated things about being a first generation college student is that I didn’t “go away” for college. I live 30 minutes from St. Joe’s, and I’ve commuted every year to save money. From the outside, it might seem like a good thing.

As a first-year and a first gen student, I wasn’t thrown into the college experience. I didn’t know that tough feeling of being away from my parents for the first time. But the transition was still a rough one.

I thought college would be this huge, intimidating place. And it was. When I first came to St. Joe’s, I had it in my head that I would never really “fit in.” And because I’m also a commuter, after a while, college just felt like high school: I would go to class and go home.

I isolated myself and kept my head down, because that was what I thought was the best way to survive. In my experience, there has been a tremendous amount of unspoken pressure to succeed.

I didn’t get the freedom that other first gen’s felt on move-in day. I didn’t get to immerse myself in “the college experience.” But I have to remind myself: there is not one right way to be a first gen student.

Time went on, and as I opened myself up to opportunities, I discovered activities that I was passionate about. I joined the Writing Center, and eventually, The Hawk.

I formed valuable connections with colleagues, faculty and staff. College stopped feeling like this big, overwhelming place. I finally felt like I belonged.

As a first and second-year student, when the going got tough, I wouldn’t ask for help. As a senior, I realize I was wrong not to reach out for help from faculty and take advantage of the resources that were available to me sooner. That’s one thing I wish I knew as a first gen first-year student.

Another thing I wish I knew is that failure doesn’t exist. It is only an opportunity to learn from mistakes and do better the next time. When I first came to St. Joe’s, I declared a music major, but over time I discovered different interests, like writing and photography.

I felt guilty for listening to my heart and pursuing other goals because I thought that meant my initial career goals would also change. I was afraid of feeling like a failure because I no longer knew for certain what I wanted to do with my life after college.

Again, I’ve had to realize that this isn’t unusual. I shouldn’t feel any extra pressure about my uncertain future just because I’m a first gen student. In fact, I should feel even more hopeful.

Because I’m first, I’ve already passed the bar that has been set for me. I’ve already made it farther than I thought I would. And as a senior being so close to graduation, I’ve almost reached the point that myself and my parents had anticipated: graduation.

As a first generation college student, I’ve really enjoyed being able to grow academically as a result of strong relationships with professors.

Being able to communicate with and learn from people who are experts in their field has been inspiring and rewarding. Getting the chance to appreciate and have discourse on different topics is one of my favorite things about being a college student. And certainly something that I will miss.

Finally, I think being a first gen means the most to my parents, who have sacrificed a lot for me to go to college, and there’s nothing wrong with that. When I walk across the stage to receive my degree in May, it will feel like all these years of learning and growing were leading up to that moment. And as a first gen, that walk will mean even more to me.

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