Can you tell us a bit about your history and personal experience applying to college as a first generation student?
Applying to college was a bit nerve wracking. Not a single person on either side of my family had gone through the application process, so it was something totally foreign to my family and I. I spent many hours on Google looking up information regarding the application process, financial aid, and the schools I was interested in. I would do extensive research at home in the evenings and bring a long list of questions to my college counselor the next morning. My sophomore year of high school is when I really began researching schools and scholarships because I knew that I would need as much preparation as possible. That being said, it was an exciting time! It was a learning process that I undertook, along with my parents. The experience also allowed for my younger brother to witness firsthand what the college application process entailed and he was able to see his big sister begin the tradition.
What were some of the biggest difficulties you faced in the application process?
One of the biggest difficulties I faced was lack of knowledge. When you're a first generation student, you're pretty much starting from scratch. You have to take the initiative to learn about the process, source application tools, and ultimately undertake the application process.
How did you solve these problems?
I was incredibly proactive when it came to the college application process. Going to college was something different and something I hadn't been exposed to, so there was an excitement there. I took advantage of any and every opportunity presented to me through school and I went out of my way to find workshops or panels on the topic of applying for college. I was that 7th grader that you would see at high school college fairs because the way I saw it, I needed all the help, all the resources and connections to help answer my questions as I dove deeper into the application process.
What resources and tools did you use?
There was the usual resources I took advantage of - my college counselor, school college advising, looking up information on the Internet, and saying hello to all college admission reps that visited. However, I also looked up different workshops, panels, and events in my city that I could go to. I kept a close eye on my top schools and any recruiting events they did in my city to ensure I was there.
What advice would you give to other first generation students who are looking to apply to college?
Be proactive. Don't expect anyone to take your hand and walk you through the process. It's important that you know what you want and where you want to go. Begin engaging with people experienced in the topic, as well as tapping into any and every resource at your disposal. Don't be scared to ask questions.
How would you encourage students to ask for help who may be afraid to?
There is no such thing as a bad question. There are plenty of kids out there that don't know where to begin, so don't be scared to ask any sort of question. You won't be the last, trust me. I recommend finding a mentor that you can ask all your questions to, in addition to college advisors and the internet. If you find someone you trust, it's typically easier to ask all the questions you would otherwise be too scared to ask.
How would you recommend a student approach the subject of college if their family has not historically had experience with a college education?
I recommend sitting down with your parents and explaining why it's important for you and what you hope to gain from the college experience. It's important to do this early on, especially if there's no college fund -- it gives you and your parents time to begin working on the financial portion of it.
What is the role of a high school when providing support to students who may be struggling?
I think it's very important for high schools to serve as a support system to help guide students to the application process. It's a tedious process as it is, so having someone to rely on is incredibly helpful - even more so if you're a first generation applicant
What is one thing you would like to see all high schools adopt to help students who don't come from a “traditional” background apply and transition to college?
I would love it if, in addition to pre-existing help, high schools customized outreach efforts to those that may not have the knowledge or resources outside of school. Advising when it comes to the college application process isn't “one size fits all,” and I think it's important to make changes based on that viewpoint.
How can students who have always had the expectation of going to college be advocates for those who haven't?
I think that simply sharing the enthusiasm over the next chapter of their school career is helpful! Excitement is contagious and for someone who hasn't always had the expectation of going to college, it's important to for them to see that it is a possibility and that in addition to counselors and teachers, you often have friends who can serve as resources by simply engaging on a conversation on the topic.
How can students assuage feelings of guilt being away from home, if they have previously been a provider of income or childcare to the family?
It's difficult. From experience, I've always been so embedded in my family life, helping with anything and everything and I know that coming from that background it's a heavy adjustment. What helped me was constant communication with my family. I called home frequently and tried to visit at least once a month since I was only an hour and a half away. Distract yourself by fully immersing yourself in the college experience - clubs, organizations, events, study groups, or anything else. It helps take your mind off the guilt and helps you naturally adapt to your new lifestyle.
Did you find any issues once you started at school? Things you weren't prepared for? Things your peers didn't seem to be experiencing?
I had no idea how college “worked.” An instant realization was that studying for a test in college the way you did in high school, was not going to cut it. It sounds silly, but having no one to give me an intro to what college life is really like made the transition a bit challenging. What I thought was “putting my all in” ultimately wasn't, and I had to make changes accordingly. It was a new experience in regards to workload and time management. Something that I just had never been exposed to.
In your opinion, how can colleges and universities improve their systems to help first generation, or under-supported students, have an easier transition?
I think awareness is key. Schools need to be aware that not everyone comes from a collegiate background and tailor transition programs to those students. Orientations are fun and introductions are key, but providing specialized workshops to students who otherwise aren't sure what to expect would be incredibly helpful in easing the transition.
Any final thoughts for us?
There are so many resources out there now that weren't in the past. Any first-generation college student dealing with the college application process has so much information they can tap into to help guide them in the right direction. Being proactive and unafraid to ask for help is key.
Jannette ArteaFirst-Generation College Student, Baylor University
Born and raised in Dallas, with a stint in New York, Janette serves as an account executive for Bolt Public Relations in their Dallas office. A first-generation college student, she graduated from Baylor University with a bachelor of arts where she double majored in public relations and film/digital media. Prior to joining Bolt, she was working at a PR agency in New York where she worked on media relations and event planning for consumer and lifestyle clients.