My Journey as a First Generation College Student

Category:  Opinions
Thursday, March 31st, 2016 at 10:41 AM

Nationally, of the 7.3 million undergraduates attending four-year public and private colleges and universities, about 20 percent are first-generation students. This statistic was mentioned in an article in The Washington Post in 2015. After reading this, it was interesting to me because I am a part of that 20 percent.

My parents chose not to go to college. They found jobs for themselves. They are the hardest working individuals that I know. It’s because of their work ethic that I have chosen to create a pathway for myself that challenges me and pushes me to be the best that I can be. With that being said, part of that pathway was attending college.

In high school, it was expected that you knew what you wanted to do with your life and what college you wanted to attend. As a sophomore in high school, I didn’t have a clue on what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing. I remember sitting in class listening to people saying things like “I’m going to be a teacher,” or “I’m going to be a nurse,” or “I’m going to be an accountant,” and I just remember thinking to myself, what the heck do I want to do?

I started taking a journalism class my junior year. It was a free elective course and I figured “Hey, why not?” This would be the first time I was truly exposed to this kind of thing. I never thought of pursuing life as a journalist as a potential career path. In this class, I learned how to lay out the paper, edit articles and work with a very small staff. It was great. I was instantly hooked.

It brought out in me all of these great skill sets I didn’t realize I had. I love to write. Check. I love interacting and helping people. Check. I love technology. Check. I love giving people the information they should know. Check. The list went on and on. It was in this class that I came to the conclusion that I wanted to give it my best shot and make a career out of this.

Towards the final stretch of my junior year, it was decision time for colleges. I never had to make a decision this hard, let alone make a decision that I really knew nothing about. I ended up deciding to apply to Penn State Behrend and Edinboro University after attending open houses.

I chose local, mostly because I loved being near my family and friends and also because it saved me a boat load of money. To be quite honest, I didn’t even consider the possibilities out of state because I knew, from my friends and some online research, that out-of-state tuition would kill me.

I would soon find out that I was accepted to both colleges. This decision was extremely difficult. I ended up choosing Edinboro as a commuter because of the great program it had to offer to me. I chose to be a commuter at Edinboro because it offered the lowest tuition I had come in contact with. This was important to me because as the decision maker, I would be the one paying it all back, not my parents.

The next few decisions and steps were hard because I didn’t really have anyone who knew exactly what I was supposed to do.

I had to figure out how to confirm my acceptance. I had to learn what papers to sign and what not to sign. I had to learn how to educate myself on the process of obtaining financial aid while my parents learned alongside me so that they could help as well. I had to learn how to schedule courses. I had to learn where things were on campus. I had to learn my own way of time management skills and all that comes with being a first-time college student.

I didn’t have someone who already knew the in’s and out’s of the college life to help me and tell me what to do. I still don’t. However, I am forever grateful to my parents for taking the time to learn these things with me.

They didn’t have to help me, but they chose to. Their name isn’t on the thousands and thousands of dollar loans. Their name isn’t associated with my grades or GPA. Their name won’t be on that diploma I receive when I walk across that stage in McComb Fieldhouse.

But their name will forever be a part of me because they made me who I am today.

As a first-generation college student, I’m not sure where this journey will take me. There is always something new to learn, whether it’s in finances, life goals, papers to sign or in the education department. One thing I know for certain is that with a solid foundation and support from family and friends, you can work to achieve anything you set your mind to.

My journey is just beginning. I will become a first-generation college graduate next May. I will continue on my pathway to success because I will make something of myself and I will not go down without a fight.

Karlee Dies is the Managing Editor of News for The Spectator.

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