It wasn’t until I really started graduate school education that I started to appreciate the challenges of being a first-generation student. I always thought that I didn’t deserve the “benefits” of being a first-generation student (i.e. more services, consideration under Affirmative Action, etc) because I grew up in a middle-class, white, well-off household.
My parents grew up in inner-city Baltimore and both had to drop out of high school. However, they both obtained their GED’s and pursued college coursework. My father went to night school for four years while I was an infant to obtain his Associate’s Degree. They both worked incredibly hard to give my brother and me a privileged childhood, so I never felt disadvantaged in any sense.
Still, that doesn’t change the fact that as a first-generation student (and as the first person in my family to graduate high school) I had to overcome some challenges. It was up to me to stay on top of my education and requirements. I had to figure out how to apply for college, scholarships, internships, etc. I was fortunate to have people in my corner providing support, but it was still my responsibility to figure things out as a first-gen student without the privilege of family members who had also been through the process.
So here’s my advice for my fellow first-generation graduate students:
You don’t have to do it all alone.
Going through education as a first-get student, I learned to rely on myself. I learned to take responsibility for my problems, struggles, and challenges and learned to step up to meet those difficulties. No one was there to come teach me how to find scholarships or apply for grad school, so I learned to figure it out on my own.
Was it hard? Yes!
Want to know what’s harder? Breaking that habit.
As a graduate student, you HAVE to rely on others. You HAVE to learn to ask for help. Without support from your program, cohort, and mentor you are setting yourself up for imposter syndrome and loneliness. In fact, I spent most of my semester feeling like I just wasn’t good enough and battling depression and loneliness. That all changed when I reached out to a fellow first-year student and started a conversation about how hard the semester had been.
I’m not alone. And neither are you!
To my first-generation students in graduate school: you’ve worked hard to get where you are. But graduate school provides you with the most support you have ever had. Take advantage of it!