It is funny how I find myself working with students who will be the first in their family to go to college. As a child, attending a private school, I really wanted to be a teacher. However, after going into the public school system in the fourth grade, I quickly changed my mind.
In high school, I realized I enjoyed business classes, like typing, computer basics (in those days, computers were a big deal) and accounting. During my eleventh-grade year, I made the decision to pursue a career in accounting. I began planning for college, like many of my peers – sending out applications, completing paperwork and preparing for exams. I cannot say that I was the smartest in my class, but I worked extremely hard and earned a solid B.
After graduating from high school, I received a full tuition scholarship to attend a junior college (The College of The Bahamas) for two years. This was exciting and frightening for me at the same time. I really did not know too many college graduates. I had a few family members who went to college but did not complete their degrees. I actually never thought to ask what stopped them from finishing, but I understood that life happened. I imagine that moving away from home to go to college, with little guidance and support was difficult.
The term, “First Generation College Student” is used a lot in college and university settings today. However, in the early 90’s when I was heading off to college, this term was unheard of – at least not around my circle of influence. I can say now, that my graduation from college significantly changed my family structure for the better. You see, although I never heard of a first-generation college student, I was just that. My mom did not have a high school diploma when I was growing up. She dropped out of school at 16 to take care of her family. She worked long hours daily. I am sure she cared about my education. She struggled to pay for private school tuition for many years. It is quite possible that she thought her investment in paying for school should yield a return. However, her primary focus was to keep a roof over our heads and food in our stomachs. As a result, my ongoing success in school was dependent on me.
I would admit that the sacrifice to send me to private school was probably the best thing for me. My peers motivated me to push harder. I had a group of friends whose parents could afford to send them to college with no worries. I also saw students like me, whose parents were making a major sacrifice to send them to school. Either way, I was motivated to graduate from high school and attend college.
During the summer of 1990, I graduated and started preparing for college. There were not a lot of resources available to me, at that time. I did not have the opportunity to ask too many people about college. Honestly, I did not think about asking anyone and even if I did think about it, my options were limited. I went to college and did well academically. However, at nineteen, during my last year of college, life happened. I became pregnant with my daughter. With all, but three credits (one class) under my belt, I delayed my dream of completing college. Two years later, I went back to school to complete my Associate’s degree.
While preparing my daughter for the first grade, I decided that it was time to take my education to the next level. I moved to the United States to attend Valdosta State University as an international student. I later graduated with a Bachelor’s degree and began working as an Accountant. Eighteen years later, I am the administrator of a program that provides opportunities for low-income, mostly first-generation students to prepare for the transition between high school and college.
Today, although my job requires me to work directly with students, I understand their parents need just as much guidance through this process. Some of my parents have either never been to college or, like me, it has been a long time since they’ve been on a college campus. Either way, they feel overwhelmed and need to be sure their students are making the right decisions as it relates to getting into and graduating from college.
I wrote HELP! What I Tell Parents About Preparing Their Kids For College to help bridge the gap between what a parent should know and what she actually knows about getting her child into college. If you are that parent looking for guidance, then click on the link and get your copy: http://bit.ly/HelpForCollege.