It’s summer! For recently graduated high school seniors it means one thing: college. The summer between high school graduation and starting college marks an important time — a time of transition. Students are excited and gearing up for what is sure to be the best four years of their lives, but hopefully, what is also going to be a time of growth and learning. Most of the time, students start college with some knowledge of what to expect and what they want to gain from this experience. Working on a college campus and constantly being surrounded by students I find myself thinking back to my own transition into college. The transition process from high school to college was a little bit different for me as a first-generation college student; to be honest I’m not sure I really understood how important and significant it all was, and it wasn’t just because I was your typical 17-year-old.

Being a first-generation student means that your resources and knowledge are sometimes limited. I really didn’t have anyone – not family, friends, or high school teachers – who made it a point to prepare me for what was ahead. All I knew was getting into and choosing to go to college was a good thing; the more education the better. My situation is not unique. The number of first-generation students attending college keeps rising. But are we keeping up with what this means as educators? While on paper it seemed like I did everything right to gain admission to a great college, looking back I was nowhere near emotionally or socially prepared for what it meant to be a college student. Nobody ever prepared me for feeling different; I didn’t come with the social and cultural capital that a lot of my peers did. While I thought it was a given that I had to figure things out on my own, I wish someone had told me it didn’t necessarily have to be that way. I had a lot of questions but I wasn’t sure how to ask them or exactly what it was that I should be asking, much less who I should ask. It was very intimidating. Not until much later, once I was out of college, did I realize that I wasn’t the only one with these concerns and feelings. The problem was that we, as a first generation students, never took the time to talk about our shared experience; we were all afraid of looking like frauds, as if we didn’t really belong.

Whether as a high school counselor or admission counselor, as educators we have a responsibility to make sure that not only are students having access to a college education, but that they will be successful once they arrive at their institutions. What is the point of encouraging students to apply to college if we don’t equip them with the tools that are necessary to succeed once they get there?

In thinking what would’ve helped me have a smoother transition to college as a first-generation student I’ve come up with a few ideas:

  • Having someone, anyone really, talk to me about what I could expect. Someone who shared my experience would have been even more helpful.
  • A confidence boost wouldn’t have hurt. It’s so important to let students know (over and over and over) that they made it as far as they did because they worked hard. That they deserve it.
  • Ups and downs are normal. It’s okay to ask for help when those downs come around. Asking for help does not mean you are a failure. It’s really important to teach students to be their own advocates.

By Maria Rodriguez