5 Tips for Fellow First-Gen Students

Starting college is always a transition we say we’re ready for … but really aren’t. When you’re a first-generation college student, this transition is made a little more difficult. Without our parents’ prior knowledge and experience, it’s like the blind leading the blind.

A first-generation college student is far more than just someone who is the first in his or her family to go to college. Being a first-generation college student means having to figure it out on your own. When I was getting ready to apply for college, scholarships, and FAFSA, I either had to look for outside help or figure it out on my own. I had no family to go to for help because they were as clueless as I was. However, the admissions staff at the University of Illinois never allowed me to feel like I was alone through this process. They helped me through every step, and answered every question I had (… and I had a lot of them).

Here are 5 tips that helped me through my college application process as a first-generation student:

  1. Prepare academically throughout high school. It’s easy to just take the bare minimum to graduate, but in order to truly enhance your application, take a look at the requirements of the university you are interested in. If you’ve met their requirements/taken more than they require, these courses will look impressive to college admissions committees, they’ll give you a breadth of knowledge, and an idea of what you might enjoy studying in the future.
  2. Consider careers that you may be interested in. Once you have an idea, make sure you check to see if the university you are interested in offers that specific major.
  3. Find someone to guide you through the application process. The paperwork, research, and deadlines involved in the college application process are not easy. High school counselors are a great resource to use as you prepare to go to college. However, when you are narrowing down schools, it might also be a good idea to reach out to admissions counselors at the university to discuss any questions you may have.
  4. Consider cost. Start applying for scholarships early. Scholarship amounts vary, but it’s important that you don’t ignore scholarships in the $200 to $1,000 range. These small amounts may not seem like much, but you’ll thank yourself when that scholarship pays for a textbook or two. It might also help to get a part-time job during your senior year to help save up for college and to help pay for a few additional expenses.
  5. Do your research! I can’t stress this enough. Although I fell in love with the University of Illinois the first time I visited, I had done my research prior to visiting. I knew about the majors they had to offer, the different organizations, helpful resources, etc. Related to research, I recommend visiting the universities that interest you before applying AND after getting accepted to make sure which is the right place for you. I had multiple friends who didn’t visit before applying to schools; once they were accepted, they visited and realized they weren’t too fond of that particular university. This can be financially overwhelming when application fees can range anywhere from $30 to $150 and you don’t even end up liking the school.

Being a first-generation student comes with struggles, but it is a beautiful thing. We come from many generations where no one has gone to college, and being the first is an honor. There is pride to be taken in being a FG, take it from me. The road isn’t easy; it’s hard to be on your own during such an important time in your life. But the effort is well paid off.

So, to my fellow first-generation college students, congratulations. You’re doing an incredible job. Just making it this far is incredible. If you’re struggling, that’s okay. You are strong and intelligent, and you can do this! I am so proud of you; everyone who is watching you go through this process is proud of you.

Don’t forget, the admissions staff members will become your best friends throughout this whole process. Don’t be afraid to reach out!

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