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Friday, July 12, 2024

How do college expectations differ for first-generation students?

First-years share their college experiences as first-generation students


By JULIANA MARQUEZ ARAUJO — features@theaggie.org


Although all students undergo a level of apprehension for their first contact with a college campus, it may be an especially daunting event for a first-generation student — a person who is the first in their family to attend college — since their perspectives may be influenced by unreliable sources.

“Media definitely influenced me to think that college was going to be horrible and was going to be the worst experience of my life,” Ren Romero, a first-generation first-year undeclared major, said. “I kept on seeing videos of people saying, ‘If you’re doing okay in high school, then you’re going to do terrible in college,’ and I was terrified.”

Without the presence of a college graduate close to them who could explain the college application process and help set realistic expectations, it can be easy to feel intimidated.

Romero described the exaggerated beliefs that follow the overestimation of college.

“It was all new to me; it was a new environment and I was like, ‘I’m going to fall behind, I’m not going to do well, my teachers are going to hate me for some reason,’” Romero said. “But it turned out fine and the professors were nice and the workload wasn’t entirely crazy.”

However, they claimed that the pressure to constantly do better is overwhelming. 

“With the amount of studying [my friends] put into [school] or the amount of work they put into it, I feel like [in comparison] I am putting no effort into my academics, even though I know that I am,” Romero said.

Going into the quarter system in college can also be difficult to adapt to if a student is used to a slower-paced learning environment. Numerous students ask themselves what a quarter system entails and wonder if they are prepared for it.

“I was absolutely terrified starting [college] because I was coming in from a school that had year-long grades and no midterms or finals,” Romero said. “But [after] coming into it and experiencing the first quarter, I was able to adjust at a pace that was a little more comfortable for me.”

While it is normal to feel frustrated with the workload of a quarter system, what differs for students in college is the accessibility of the countless resources available to them. However, the responsibility to take advantage of these opportunities lies with the students.

Romero listed their goals for future quarters and academic years: “Attending office hours, trying to attend more study groups, being more open to opportunities as well, not just in an academic standpoint but volunteering as well. [I am] just trying to make a better life for myself here.”

Ethan Hernandez, a first-generation first-year pharmaceutical chemistry major, shared his first quarter experience as well.

“I always put being at UC Davis first, but I definitely enjoyed the freedom to have fun that came with moving to Davis for the first time.”

He claimed that he felt a little more prepared for college than most first-generation students because he had the guidance of his cousins, who encouraged him to see the opportunities that arise with a college setting.

“I’ve always had friends who were older than me and mentors throughout my high school that definitely helped me with the idea of what I wanted to do in college. But I was more worried about how I was going to do it once I got here. [It was] just all brand new, coming to a whole different campus eight hours away from home.”

Hernandez highlighted the importance of finding your community when stepping into college, as he joined a fraternity in his first quarter.

“I found my group of people fairly easily. Receiving advice from people that I found very similar to me but also already had an experience that was at a higher level allowed me to seek different opportunities. I’ve always found something to learn from certain groups of people,” Hernandez said.

First-generation student America Bernabe, a first-year political science major, named an obstacle that arises in a first-generation student’s process and explained how it differs for students with parents who are able to guide them.

“They know what to ask; they know who to ask. It can be really hard sometimes because no one wants to find something out on their own. It’s more intimidating,” Bernabe said. “You don’t want to feel so lonely in such a life-changing process.”

The resources provided by a high school can also have an impact on a student’s college perception and preparedness. 

“[My high school] had a really bad system. It was supposed to be a college preparatory school, but it’s more like they just sent you to college. They didn’t actually prepare you for it,” Romero said.

Unlike Romero, Bernabe was able to grasp an understanding of college due to her earlier education. 

“I feel like my high school did a really good job of ensuring that the seniors had at least a general idea of what college is and what college can mean to you,” Bernabe said.

She also said that a college environment can come with difficulties besides academics, such as learning time management and prioritizing mental health.

“Academic-wise, it was a little bit harder to discipline myself since I thought that I was going to have so much freedom,” Bernabe said. “I was really having my ‘me time,’ trying to make sure that I had a good memory of my first quarter.”

The ability to balance academics with a social life and create a memorable experience in college is important too, especially for mental health reasons. Plus, loved ones are excited for them to experience college fully, not just through academics. 

“I knew that I was going to go to college just because that was always an expectation for me from my parents. I had to make sure that their sacrifices were worth something because that’s important to them, and it’s important to me,” Bernabe said.

Parents of first-generation students may not have had the choice to attend college but did what they could to ensure that their kids would be presented with opportunities to explore their passions.

“Reflection, reflection, reflection, that’s all that college has been. Davis has nurtured me in a way that has allowed me to grow because I feel like I can just think and express myself a lot more creatively than before,” Bernabe said.

In order to take control of their futures, these students are finding the support and motivation to pave their paths through the confusing and sometimes intimidating experience of higher education.


Written by: Juliana Marquez Araujo — features@theaggie.org



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