With this list of 20 tips for a first-generation college student, we hope to alleviate some of the angst that those who are the first in the family to attend a college might feel. You may not know how important it is to be designated a first-generation college student, but the significance is paramount for you, your family, and your future family. The world is waiting for your contributions, delivered from the fundamental environment in which you were raised, to improve conditions through whatever path you choose. That’s right; you are in command of your life’s road for the first time, look forward to it, experience it, and embrace it.
Before You Leave for College
There are some elemental things you need to know at the start of your journey. First, you, as a first-generation college student, are in a unique position to succeed. Please be aware that the dropout rate for first-generation college students is far above that of those students who have other family members from which to draw knowledge and support. We are here to help. Take advantage of this list of hints for first-generation college students. It is the result of years of study, research, and experience.
- Do not rest through the summer. Now is the time for you to begin your college life. We know that it is hard for a first-generation college student to spend their first summer resting after years of arduous study in high school to achieve that marvelous goal of receiving admittance into a college. Yes, you should take the time to play, rest, and dream. But there are other things that you must accomplish during this first summer before leaving home.
- Fill out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is the first step toward receiving financial assistance to attend college. All accredited schools in the U.S. have access to Federal Student Loan funds, but filling out the form is the gateway to applying for other financial aid as well. Once a college receives your FAFSA form, it looks for federal and state grants such as the PELL Grant and Need Grants that do not require you to pay back after graduation or if you drop out.
- Look for scholarships. The FAFSA is also the opening toward scholarships. Even if you wish to downplay your abilities, to humble yourself before the community, and your family, there are scholarships out there for your situation. Whether you are a first-generation college student from an immigrant family or a low-income family, you are uniquely eligible for scholarships from local organizations, community, or state-sponsored platforms. Take advantage of these scholarship opportunities by applying.
- Look in your college catalog. Search for courses that are both easy and moderately difficult to take during the semesters. This will keep you interested in your course by balancing the work load.
- Take the minimum number of credits. When starting off for your first semester, only take the minimum number of credits per semester to equate to full time. There will be challenges in each course, and when finals week comes along, you will be able to devote your full concentration on your studies. Some students insist on taking five or six courses per term, but it is best to not follow their example at the start to avoid burnout.
- Connect with a school counselor. If you have the opportunity, visit the counselor personally. Let the counselor know you are a first-generation college student, the history of your family, and why you wish to attend school. The counselor is your opening to an incredible array of helpful departments, facilitators, and people.
- Prepare for your first move. There are so many items you wish to take with you. Choose something that comforts you that reminds you of your family and the community from which you come. Choose your wardrobe to include clothes for warm and cold weather; you will not be near your home closet and must be prepared for the inevitable change in seasons. Line up any computers, books, etc. that you feel you will need.
- Make travel arrangements to your new school. Do not wait until the last minute to think about how you will get to school. There may be other students from your area attending your college. If you cannot have family help to get to your college or university, see if you can carpool. If your school is a long distance away, make sure to purchase train or airplane tickets far enough in advance to insure you have a seat before it is sold out.
- Spend time with your loved ones. Most of all, spend that extra time with your family and friends, let them know that you are still with them in spirit even when you are far away.
Once You Arrive at College
There are crucial things that you must do during your first days at school. Some of these items are an extension of what you did during the summer, such as visiting your school counselor, signing up for your classes, and setting up your room. You might be a bit sad that you have left your family and friends behind and also a bit anxious of what’s to come. Luckily, you’re not alone in these feelings as all new college students are starting out on their own for the first time as well.
- Start meeting new people. The first thing to do when you enter the college environment is to make yourself available to all other students. Strike up conversations with athletes, others in your first class, and all other classes after. Once you start to meet new people and make new friends, the transition to college will become much easier.
- Do not be intimidated by words. You might hear new words that are unfamiliar to you. Academic jargon and anacronyms will flood your brain. It might be easy to get lost in all of the new terminology, but try to go with the flow. Soon you will know exactly what everyone means like you have been at college forever.
- Spend within your financial means. Though they try to hide it, most students are broke in college. Don’t worry about it. It is important to not be one of those students that gains a new credit card and maxes it out in the first week. Spare yourself the extra burden of worry and stay broke. Make college an adventure that you will remember forever.
- Personally visit your professors. Get to know your professors so you are not just a face in the room. Use their office hours to ask them questions. Let them know that you’re excited about their course. Getting to know your professors could open up doors for further educational opportunities down the road. Helping them fulfill their quest to pass on knowledge will make a mark on both of you.
- Visit the tutoring facility. If you’re struggling with a subject, don’t hesitate to find a tutor. Almost every college offers a tutoring service for their students. Write down the times when their schedule matches yours. There is no reason for you to remain alone in your educational endeavors. Taking advantage of this free service gives you a leg up on your challenges.
- Learn, know, and understand your learning method. College is new way of learning and sometimes that can take a bit of time to adjust to. You might go from a high school classroom of 25 students to a college lecture hall of 500. This can be quite a scary jump for most first-time college students. This is why it is important to find out the best way you learn. If a big lecture hall is hard to sit through, try to pick classes that are in a more intimate setting.
- Always attend class. Skipping class means you are missing out on the opportunity to clarify ideas, learn new concepts, and come out with the knowledge that the instructor and your classmates offer. Take, for instance, a class in mathematics. These classes proceed through different theorem at monstrous speed. The classes may move from the various geometric numbers systems to the advanced concepts of matrix mathematics during one session. Stay in your classes, pay attention, ask questions, build your knowledge, concentrate on the possibilities.
- Work hard at everything. Each class you choose to attend is an essential ingredient of your education. Sometimes it will feel like the topics involved have no meaning, but when you finish your academic studies and graduate, you will look back and see how each subject works in the mix. When you graduate, you will face a world of indifference. Hard work in school prepares you to plow through that indifference and become a beacon. A fully rounded person who understands how complex issues are divided into small compartments. Realizing that allows you to conquer or change each of those compartments in turn.
- Find mentors who have successfully experienced college life. Visit your mentors periodically to gain advice on how to handle situations that will arise. There will always be issues in your new environment that you do not understand. Every student experiences them at some level. A friendly voice in your ear helps to get you through these rough moments.
- Get involved at school. It is important to join clubs that interest you and in college you will find that clubs and organizations are plentiful. It is important that you take the time to reenergize your brain through social contact. These are some of the most memorable activities you will experience while attending college.
- It is okay to wait to declare your major. Some students know immediately what they want to major in, while others might still be figuring it out. There is no reason to limit your possibilities during the first year of school. Work in classes on different topics to find out what interests you the most. Many students find a love for one pathway that is entirely different from their original choice.
Any list of things to do when attending your first year of college, whether built for first-generation college students or students from experienced college families, is a list of advice. You can take that advice or go your own way. Just know that according to a First Generation Foundation study, 89 percent of all low-income, first-generation students will leave college within the first five years of entry without a degree. The importance of preparation for college life with an understanding of the discipline necessary to succeed is the purpose of this list.
Have fun in college, grow in knowledge, make friends, and enjoy the experience. We hope that this list of 20 tips for a first-generation college student helps you to succeed in your new adventure.
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