The Path of a First Generation College Student

 

As a first-generation college student, the protocols of applying to college were not natural for me. My parents were highly supportive, their biggest dream was to see me and my sister go to college. I remember my mom always telling us that she didn’t care what we did as long as we finished school, as far as we could go. My parents came to this country for better opportunities, and they both knew the opportunities that a college degree would offer.


I think a lot of students can agree there is a different kind of pressure when you’re a first-generation American and a first-generation college student. Many might only go to college to try and appease their parents, to do what hasn’t been done yet, but hey, whatever gets you through that door. Most students, first-generation or not, feel that pressure to not only finish school but to also do well, and this is incredibly hard. Second to this, the hardest part for me was figuring out all the processes of applying to college. I never took the SAT, I signed up for the ACT last minute and did not know how to study for it. I didn’t start looking for scholarships until I was a high school senior, and the FAFSA completely perplexed me.


My situation was not a unique one. Now, working in college access, I see students in similar situations all the time. My favorite moments are always helping these students, personally knowing how I needed someone in my corner specifically to help me with the college journey.I would have so much better decisions for myself if I had that support. I also love it when I get to see or hear the relief from their parents. It is not fair for them to feel like they have to know everything, college and the journey to get there has changed dramatically, and each school has their own processes. That’s why I do what I do now.


We all know that right now is a crazy time to be alive. Honestly, it was a crazy time even before this pandemic. Now students are facing unprecedented challenges, protocols of all sorts have been upheaved and shuffled around, and yet, the students I speak to usually sound hopeful.


I began at UTSA in the fall of 2015 and graduated in the spring of 2019. The four years I spent there were as transformative as I had hoped. I gained not only life-long knowledge and friends, but I discovered new interests, new ways of thinking, and exactly how I like my coffee. I also learned hard lessons, I struggled through some classes and breezed through others. There were plenty of days I felt as though maybe I wouldn’t make it, maybe I just wasn’t cut out for it. Those were the days I remembered my parent’s dream and realized it aligned with mine. I wanted to one day make some sort of difference in the community, and I needed the knowledge to do so.


In 2017 I started an internship as required by my degree plan. I interned at a nonprofit organization that aimed to tackle illiteracy in south Texas, this was my gateway into the nonprofit sector. I don’t know how long it would have taken me to realize that was the kind of work I wanted if it hadn’t been for that dang degree requirement. In 2019, I walked across that stage in the Alamo dome proudly wearing the First-Gen sash. Even if there is no walking across a stage this year, I want every student to feel that moment, knowing they did something worthwhile not just for their families, but for themselves as well.

 

LILIBETH ARICEAGA 
Road To Success Advisor
Johnson HS, Reagan HS, Harlandale HS



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